On a snowy field in an ugly game Sunday, Jordan Howard churning his legs constituted a sexy highlight. For the third of his three scores in a 26-6 win against the one-win 49ers, the rookie running back pushed a pile of five 49ers five yards and into the end zone.
“He’s fun, man,” guard Eric Kush said.
Howard had never played in snow before. He declared it “kinda annoying, just like rain, basically,” after running a career-high 32 times for 117 yards.
He did so when everyone inside Soldier Field — and, heck, the 13,160 fans who bought tickets but didn’t show up — knew the Bears would run the ball.
“I’m definitely ready to be the workhorse,” Howard said. “Even though they might know it’s coming, they still have to stop it.”
The 49ers didn’t.
In a lost season, Howard’s performance in conditions foreign to him can’t be overstated.
“Even if he’s met at the line, he falls forward,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “You never see him get stuck and, like, driven back. That’s an intangible for a running back that you can’t really quantify.”
The forward pass wasn’t part of Sunday’s game until 22:30 into it, when 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick logged the first completion by either team. The next play, Phil Dawson made a 31-yard field goal to go up 3-0.
That the 49ers were that deep in Bears’ territory was an advertisement for both teams’ ineptitude. After the Bears were whistled for delay of game on a punt because tight end Ben Braunecker was late to line up, the Harvard rookie missed a block that resulted in a partially blocked punt.
The ball was caught in the air by cornerback Dontae Johnson, who returned it down the left sideline for a presumed touchdown, complete with a snow angel celebration. Johnson was ruled to have stepped out at the 4, though. A celebration penalty moved the ball back to the 19.
The Bears’ Deonte Thompson fumbled the kickoff after Dawson’s first field goal, and the kicker made a 28-yarder to go up 6-0 just after the two-minute warning.
The Bears seemed to be content to run out the clock — the 49ers took timeouts after their first two plays — before Barkley completed four passes and drew a pass interference call in the end zone to set up Howard’s 1-yard plunge with 31 seconds left. Howard’s next two touchdowns capped the Bears’ first two drives of the second half.
The Bears’ third victory felt good, even if the game felt like a rugby scrum. They missed tackles, slipped and dropped passes, outside linebacker Willie Young said.
“But at the end of the day it’s all about how you respond, and the way they responded, they could have easily shut it down,” he said. “They could have gotten to the point they were so frustrated they coulda just hung their cleats up.
“But that wasn’t the case. That wasn’t what it was about. The way guys responded (Sunday) was a winning mentality.”