Matt Nagy faced four third-and-short plays in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 24-23 loss to the Packers.
The Bears threw twice on third-and-3 or shorter — and both passes felt incomplete. They ran twice in such situations, and were successful both times.
Jordan Howard, though, didn’t touch the ball on any of those four plays. Mitch Trubisky ran a sweep left and Tarik Cohen ran up the middle on the conversions.
Wednesday, Howard was asked whether he wanted to be the one the Bears leaned on in short yardage. His answer was predictable.
“I mean, everybody wants the ball at the end of the game,” the Bears running back said Wednesday. “So whatever coach called, I was with it.”
This season will be a referendum on whether Howard is, as his new head coach claims, an every-down back. Short-yard usage notwithstanding, Nagy treated him as exactly that Sunday night.
“I thought I showed up pretty well,” Howard said. “Coach Nagy said he was going to use me like he told everybody. And he did.”
His fit in Nagy’s offense, debated all offseason, seems to work. Howard, who played 71 percent of the Bears’ snaps, ran 15 times for 82 yards.
“I liked what Jordan did,” Nagy said this week. “Jordan is one of those guys that once he gets the ball he gets rolling. And you could see that. He ended up with 15 carries. In a perfect world you’d like to see him get a few more carries.”
More importantly, Howard caught five passes — on five targets — for only the second time in his career. Entering Sunday’s game, he averaged 1.6 catches and 2.6 targets per game during his career.
“I feel like I did pretty well,” Howard said.
With each catch came a growing feeling.
“It definitely helps my confidence,” he said.
It felt like a weight off his shoulders. Through his first two seasons, Howard’s 21.2 percent drop rate was the highest of all NFL running backs with at least 40 targets, per Pro Football Focus. He dropped the potential game-winner at the pylon in last year’s season opener, an eventual loss to the Falcons.
Howard vowed to improve his hands. He started the offseason catching tennis balls, trying to improve his hand-eye coordination.
“When I first got here, it was one of the areas he said he wanted to improve on — it was one of the first things he told me,” said first-year running backs coach Charles London. “So I said, ‘All right, let’s get better at it.’
“He’s really put in the work. It’s really been all on him. He wanted to get better at it. He put it in the work. He catches before, after and during practice.”
The handoffs, Howard can handle.
“I think Jordan could run behind five blocking dummies and get 100 yards every week,” Kyle Long said. “It’s a testament to his work ethic and his toughness. The guy runs very hard.
“He understands what the defenses are trying to do to him, and he understands our schemes.”