Humble Jordan Howard breaks Matt Forte’s rookie rushing record

SHARE Humble Jordan Howard breaks Matt Forte’s rookie rushing record
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Bears running back Jordan Howard (24) runs away from Vikings defensive end Everson Griffen (97) en route to a big gain in the second half. Howard rushed for 135 yards on 23 carries to give him 1,313 yards on the season — breaking Matt Forte’s franchise rookie record of 1,268 yards in 2008. (Jim Mone/AP)

MINNEAPOLIS —Amid the rubble of another dreadful loss that concluded a dreadful Bears season, Jordan Howard was in a familiar position Sunday — downplaying yet another milestone in a record-setting rookie season.

As the Bears’ stumbled their way to a 38-10 loss to the Vikings at U.S. Bank Stadium, Howard was a model of consistency and productivity. He rushed for 135 yards on 23 carries (5.9 avg.) to break Matt Forte’s rookie record for rushing yards in a season. With his seventh 100-yard game in 13 starts, Howard finished with 1,313 yards on 252 carries (5.2 avg.) and scored six touchdowns. Forte rushed for 1,268 yards on 316 carries (3.9 avg.) in 2008.

Howard became only the third running back in franchise history to average 5.0 yards or more per carry with 200 or more carries — behind Hall of Famers Gale Sayers (5.4 in 1966) and Walter Payton (5.5 in 1977).

“There’s nothing to really celebrate — we’re not winning,” said Howard, a fifth-round draft pick from Indiana. “That’s the point of the game — to win. If you’re not winning, there’s no point in celebrating. I would trade all the personal success for wins, so I don’t really think about individual success.”

Howard at least allowed that the record “means a lot.” But he gave the credit to others. “I just want to thank God, because none of this was possible without him. My teammates, they do a great job of opehing the holds. The coaches, they get us in the right plays. I just try to make the most of my opportunities.”

Howard’s success this season is more than just a consolation prize. As bad as the Bears (3-13) were this season, Howard’s production as a rookie and the Bears’ ability to run the ball behind an offensive line that figures to get stronger next season with the return of guard Kyle Long gives them a pretty good starting point for improvement in 2017.

Howard’s performance wasn’t skewed by a series of big runs or big games or garbage-time yards. In his 13 starts he averaged 95.8 yards and 5.2 yards per carry. And he was more effective as the season got longer — Howard averaged 106.8 yards per game and 5.4 yards per carry in his final nine games, rushing for 77 yards or more in each one.

“He’s a great, great runner; a great person as well,” said rookie center Cody Whitehair — another bright spot this season. “He gives us all the credit. He’s a very humble guy. But the credit goes to him. Jordan runs hard. He gets those few extra yards he needs by lowering his pads and really fighting for it. We look forward to next season with him.”

Sunday’s finale was typical, with Howard taking advantage of good blocking for consistent gains on inside runs. Sixteen of his first 20 carries went for four years or more.

“He’s really impressive. To have over a thousand yards as a rookie, it doesn’t happen a lot,” guard Ted Larsen said. “He’s such a hard runner. He reads inside-zone so well, so lot of those [yards] are on him.”

Howard rushed for 153 yards against the Vikings at Soldier Field in Week 8 — giving him the two biggest rushing games of the season against the Vikings. The Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott — the NFL’s rushing champion, presumptive rookie of the year and MVP candidate — rushed for 86 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries (4.3 avg.) against the Vikes in Week 13.

“I’m very excited to get to work next year,” Howard said. “We had a lot of close games this year. I feel like we’re going to be very battle-tested next year and it’s definitely going to pay off.”

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