CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears coughed away first-half opportunities and struggled offensively in scoring a mere six points in 30 minutes against the Los Angeles Rams.
The second half felt far different right out of the chute. And it helped turn the tide in a 15-6 Bears win over the Rams, who lost just their second game of the season Sunday night.
In just over a five-minute span to open the third quarter, the Bears had ripped off nine points scored by players who weighed a combined 630 pounds or more. Talk about a sudden — and shocking — change.
The Rams had received the ball first after halftime, backed up by a holding call on the kickoff and a run for minus-5 yards on first down. On second down, Rams QB Jared Goff dropped back and was mauled by Eddie Goldman and Akiem Hicks, who barreled their way into the backfield against an overmatched Rams offensive line.
A 6-6 game suddenly was 8-6, Bears, on the Goldman safety less than a minute into the second half. The Rams double-teamed Khalil Mack on the play, leaving a great one-on-one matchup for Goldman against John Sullivan, whom he overwhelmed off the snap. After barely missing a safety against Seattle in Week 2, Goldman surely savored this score in yet another prime-time game against a quality opponent.
But the scoring spree wasn’t over. The Rams free-kicked the ball back to the Bears, who finally got a little offensive rhythm going. The run and pass games were humming a bit, and it appeared as if the Bears might have gotten a — ho hum — regular, old touchdown pass from Mitch Trubisky to Allen Robinson.
Replay, however, showed that Robinson’s foot was out of bounds at the Los Angeles 2-yard line. That’s when Bears head coach Matt Nagy dipped deep into his red-zone bag of tricks.
Onto the field sprinted four defensive linemen and an additional offensive lineman, making it six of them on the field. Yes, it was Trubisky and 10 beefeaters lined up two yards short of the goal line — a combined 3,288 pounds of Bears players on the field, per NFL Research.
Quite a sight.
And it brought back memories of last week when Hicks, who was lined up in the backfield, scored his first NFL rushing touchdown. The Rams clearly thought that was the plan again Sunday night, and Trubisky executed a beautiful play-action fake to the big man.
Awaiting the pass? That would be reserve offensive lineman Bradley Sowell, who had played a total of 30 offensive snaps entering this game. One of those previous snaps came on a trick-play attempt against the New England Patriots back in Week 7. Trubisky tried then to hit the 6-foot-7, 312-pound Sowell on a corner route — a pass that almost was intercepted.
But this time, Trubisky put the right arc on the ball and left it up high enough for Sowell to haul it in for his first NFL reception and touchdown. Sowell celebrated with a touchdown dance that suggested it has been a while since he found the end zone, but of course the Soldier Field crowd went nuts. (His last TD? That would be his freshman year at Ole Miss, when he caught a 1-yard scoring catch.)
Sowell said the play was called "Santa's Sleigh" and was installed on Friday. That's the day when Nagy opens up his toybox and gets the trick-play stuff added. It might as well have been Christmas for Sowell when Charles Leno pointed out on the very last page of the playbook that Sowell could be on the receiving end of a touchdown.
From there, Sowell went home in a panic. He didn't have a touchdown celebration choreographed, of course. So Sowell enlisted some help he trusted.
"I have to give credit to my daughters," he said. "I told them, 'Hey, Dad might score.' I got it from my daughter, Presley, she likes to dance, so she was doing a little leg thing, so it worked out pretty well."
Just like that, it was 15-6, Bears. A defensive lineman and an offensive lineman had just scored more points than the team had in the first half. Only fitting in a Bears season that has surprised in many ways.
Sowell became the 16th Bears player to score a touchdown this season. Already through 13 games that’s three more players to get in the end zone than the Bears had in any of John Fox’s three seasons as head coach.
Say what you will about Nagy’s penchant for dialing up cutesy red-zone plays, which sometimes don’t work and occasionally irritate fans. On this night, when Trubisky (three INTs) was clearly struggling, Nagy’s timing was needed.
"We like that stuff," Nagy said. "We like it. Our guys like it. I like it. Our offensive coaches like it. We've had success with it. And those guys execute it.
"It doesn't mean we're going to it all the time. But if the situation hits, and we feel like it, we'll have some ready for it."
It has been a fascinating few weeks for the Bears, who have had to manufacture points in any way they can. Two of those games prior to Sunday had been with Chase Daniel taking Trubisky’s place, so it’s understandable that the operation might not have been that clean. Trubisky clearly showed some rust in his return after missing time with the shoulder injury.
But it also says something about the creativity of the coaching staff to use at least five defenders on offense this season — Hicks, Eddie Jackson, Bryce Callahan and the two other burly defenders out there as part of the full-house backfield on the Sowell TD, Jonathan Bullard and Bilal Nichols.
The Bears previous five touchdowns at this point were Trubisky’s pass to Sowell; a Tarik Cohen pass to Anthony Miller; Hicks’ TD run; Daniel’s pass to Adam Shaheen; and a Jackson pick-six. Hey, whatever works.
This Bears defense did a number on the Rams in Sunday’s game well into the fourth quarter before they started getting a few things going. For the most part, outside of a few strange hiccups at New York and Miami, the defense has done a marvelous job.
"We did enough in the end," Nagy said. "I am just so proud of our guys."
And while the offense remains a work in progress, the Bears still show they have a formula to win a big game against a strong opponent. Basically, anyone playing the Bears has to be prepared for anyone to be a scoring threat on this team.