Somewhere Walter Payton is smiling.
As second-year running back Jordan Howard powered down the left sideline for the game-winning 19-yard touchdown in overtime, you could see grit and determination from the former Indiana star. The impressive run carried the Bears to its first victory of the season over Pittsburgh 23-17.
He was pumped up as his teammates celebrated the touchdown in the Bears’ endzone. It was a refreshing moment on a Sunday where the Bears and the rest of the NFL showed unity and disagreement with President Donald Trump’s comments this weekend.
Howard left the game briefly two times after worrying fans at Soldier Field with his ailing right shoulder. He was far from 100 percent late, but that didn’t stop him from amassing 138 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
“I was hurt pretty bad. I didn’t feel like I could finish,” Howard told the media after the game. “But my team kept fighting, so I had to keep playing.”
It was exactly the performances we became accustomed to seeing a year ago as he emerged during his rookie season. All the naysayers around town and the league had already crowned Howard doomed for failure while promoting his speedy undersized counterpart Tarik Cohen.
There’s room for both stars. That has been clear through three weeks. Cohen had 12 carries for 78 yards and a near 73-yard game-winning touchdown run in overtime. The officials ruled Cohen out at the Pittsburgh 37-yard line but most replays made it tough, to tell the truth. My eyes thought Cohen was in bounds.
Stat of the Day: Howard and Cohen accounted for 75 percent of the Bears’ offense with 226 total yards.
In fact, the top three leading receivers were running backs. On a day where Mike Glennon completed 15 of 22 passes for 101 yards, one touchdown and an interception, Howard, Cohen and Benny Cunningham had 73 yards on 12 catches.
The blocking up front was crucial for the Bears all afternoon. Wide receivers Josh Bellamy and Deonte Thompson quietly set the edge. Rookie tight end Adam Shaheen showed up big along with veteran Dion Sims. Don’t forget Shaheen had his first touchdown grab late in the second quarter.
Considering the Bears lost center Hroniss Grasu early on in the game due to a right hand injury, it was an admirable effort. Backup tackle Bradley Sowell entered at left guard as Cody Whitehair moved to center. Luckily, Kyle Long came back to full health this week. The offensive line depth is shrinking.
Physical lines mean success
The Bears don’t get any respect around the league. Cue the Rodney Dangerfield clips with him yelling “no respect” during his stand-up routines.
A near Week 1 win that the Bears blew against Atlanta caught everyone by surprise. Last week, the Bears didn’t play bad football, one player did. That was Glennon.
The offensive and defensive lines have been very good for the Bears thus far. Howard’s injury really hampered him the past two weeks and that mixed with the absence of Long made for an uninspiring running game.
Now, the patchwork offensive line is opening up running lanes. Howard is still a legitimate star in this league and the focus of this offense. The next best thing, Cohen is good wherever he lines up, running back, wide receiver or as a punt returner.
This offense can move the chains with Howard and Cohen having holes to run through despite the lackadaisical play of Glennon.
Third year head coach John Fox wants a power running game, a strong defense and a good special teams unit. The Bears got all three things today, winning the turnover battle early on to add points. The two teams ended the game with two turnovers apiece.
Defensively, three sacks came on the day as Bryce Callahan, Willie Young and Pernell McPhee each had one. Callahan’s was vital as it forced a fumble of Ben Roethlisberger. However, McPhee’s was just as important early in the fourth quarter with Pittsburgh on the Bears’ side of the field. Young’s sack ended the fourth quarter and brought us into overtime.
The trio of cornerbacks Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara and Marcus Cooper each had two pass breakups. The secondary was active and the team’s first interception will come in time. There were many near picks on Sunday.
Sherrick McManis is not only the longest tenured Bear, but he is a special teams stud. He hasn’t been very good when playing as a cover corner defensively over the years. However, he made plays time and time again in this one on the third phase.
He recovered Eli Rogers’ muffed punt in the first quarter leading to Howard’s first touchdown run. With five seconds left in the second quarter, he blocked Chris Boswell’s 35-yard field goal try.
Cooper slip up
Following that was Cooper’s field goal block return. Unfortunately for him and the Bears, Cooper went 70 yards. He needed 71 for a touchdown. He flew down the field untouched for 70 yards, but needing just one more yard, he slowed down thinking he had scored six.
Steelers tight end Vance McDonald worked his butt off to get there and he stripped a fully stopped Cooper. Then, punter Jordan Berry battled the ball into the back of the end zone and out of bounds. The Bears got the ball at the 1, a false start penalty by Charles Leno backed them up and Connor Barth kicked a 24-yard field goal.
Cooper is going to be ridiculed by every analyst and fan who sees the play and rightfully so. Luckily, the Bears were able to overcome the embarrassing mistake, but imagine if they didn’t. Cooper has to be smarter. Fortunately for him, he performed well in coverage when it mattered most in the second half.
The Bears travel to Green Bay on Thursday night to face a Packers group that beat Cincinnati in overtime 27-24 late Sunday afternoon. After three weeks, the NFC North standings has Minnesota, Green Bay and Detroit all at 2-1 while the Bears sit at 1-2.
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