Deep in his own territory at the 18-yard line on the Bears’ third offensive play of the game, rookie running back Jordan Howard shot through the middle of the Vikings’ defense looking for tough yards and suddenly found the opportunity of a lifetime against the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense — a wide-open field and a straight shot to the end zone.
The Vikings don’t give those up easily and Howard did all he could with it — finally getting chased down by cornerback Xavier Rhodes near the sideline at the Vikings’ 13-yard line for a 69-yard gain. It was the longest rush for a Bears running back since Kahlil Bell’s 72-yard run against the Eagles in 2009.
As it turned out, the Bears had to settle for Connor Barth’s 30-yard field goal, but at least Howard got them close enough for that. The Bears’ 32nd-ranked scoring offense vs. the Vikings No. 1-ranked scoring defense didn’t bode well for Monday night’s game at Soldier Field. But Howard provided one spark after another to give them a chance, and they parlayed the early burst into a 20-10 upset of the NFC-North leading Vikings.
“Early in the game, you want to set the tone,” tight end Zach Miller said. “For him to squirt through there and pop out the back end — huge play, huge momentum boost for us.”
Howard finished with 153 yards rushing on 26 carries (5.9 avg.), including a two-yard touchdown that gave the Bears a 13-0 lead in the second quarter. Howard also had four receptions for 49 yards, including a 34-yard gain on a shovel pass from Jay Cutler that let do Barth’s second field goal.
Howard had 100-yard rushing games against the Lions (23 carries, 111 yards, 4.8 avg.) and Colts (16-118, 7.4, one touchdown). But this one came against a Vikings defense ranked third in the NFL in rushing defense. In fact, his 69-yard run alone was more than any other running back has gained against the Vikings in a single game. The previous long run against the Vikings was 20 yards.
“That was fantastic,” Bears guard Eric Kush said. “Execution — everybody made their blocks and that’s what happens when everything goes right on a play. You get a nice pop. That fires everybody up, like, ‘We’re ready to play some football now.’”
Following his 100-yard games against the Lions and Colts, Howard struggled against teh Jaguars (15-34, 2.3) and Packers (7-22, 3.1). In fact, Ka’Deem Carey received the majority of the running back carries against the Packers (10-48).
But Howard — who didn’t get his chance until after Jeremy Langford and Carey were suffered injuries — took another big step forward against the Vikings in establishing himself as the head of the “committee” of Bears running backs.
“I’ve been very impressed with him from the onset,” Bears coach John Fox said. “He’s a rookie running back that has grown pretty fast. He got thrown into the fire. We had some injuries at running back. He stepped up when we’ve needed him and he’s done that every time we’ve called on him.”
The Bears plan on going with the hot hand at running back, but Howard figures to continue to get the first shot. Carey had two carries for three yards. Langford was active after missing the previous four games with an ankle injury, but did not get any carries.
Howard separated himself further Monday night. He’s had the hot hand before. But this one looks like it might have some staying power.