CHICAGO — The David Montgomery the Bears had been waiting to see since April flashed late in the first quarter Thursday night against the Packers.
Montgomery darted to his left with a handoff from Mitch Trubisky at the Bears 18-yard line. He stayed on his feet, putting one hand on the ground for balance, as a pile of players nearly fell on him at the 22. He spun away from a defender at the 24, then backpedaled with three more Packers trying to pull him down until he got to the 28 for a first down.
The 6-yard gain with about a minute to play in the quarter showed off the contact balance and ability to break tackles the Bears touted when they drafted Montgomery in the third round out of Iowa State.
But it was not an exciting glimpse of what was to come the rest of the game.
Montgomery had two more carries for 1 yard after that as the Bears running game completely disappeared in the 10-3 loss.
The Bears gained just 12 yards on the ground on four second-half carries. That left coach Matt Nagy to try to explain Friday why Montgomery had only seven touches and fellow running back Tarik Cohen had no official carries (two were erased by a fumble and penalties).
“When you hand the ball off 15 times in 65 plays, that’s not enough balance,” Nagy said. “It’s one-dimensional. Even with it being a 7-3 game, I knew that. I was aware of that. But we’ll figure this thing out. We’ll get it right.”
Nagy offered a few explanations for the paltry running game, which was a frequent topic last season when the Bears had Jordan Howard and Benny Cunningham rather than Montgomery and Mike Davis.
He said the offense never got into a rhythm, though he did see missed fourth-quarter opportunities for runs when he watched the film. He asked that the public keep in mind he called some run plays that turned into Trubisky throws because of run-pass options. For example, Trubisky could have handed off to Montgomery on a third-quarter third-and-1 but instead looked to pass and was sacked.
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“In general I think our offensive line holds themselves to higher standards,” Nagy said.
One of the line’s botched plays came on a handoff to Cordarrelle Patterson on third-and-1 at the Packers 39 early in the second quarter. Center James Daniels was badly beaten by nose tackle Kenny Clark, Patterson was stuffed for a loss of 2 yards and the Bears punted.
Nagy pointed to the line’s whiff when defending his play call.
“We could’ve had Walter Payton back there, and he wasn’t getting anything,” Nagy said. “It wouldn’t have mattered. … (Patterson) is able to do that. Anybody that watches the way he’s run in other scenarios like that, he’s done some damage back there. If he gets it, it’s a beautiful play call. But it doesn’t matter.”
What matters now is the Bears finding a way to have a more balanced attack, something Trubisky drove home after the game.
“We’ve got to get the run game going a lot more,” Trubisky said. “When this offense is at its best, it’s a balanced attack with the run game and the pass game, and we just didn’t do a good enough job to get in a rhythm. We had to lean more on the pass, which made it easier on the defense because they know it’s coming.”
Whether that means more touches for Montgomery is a question fantasy football owners were screaming about on social media Friday morning.
Nagy said he wasn’t sure going in how many snaps he wanted to give Montgomery, who was on the field for 38% of the Bears’ plays compared with Davis’ 56 percent. Nagy noted that Montgomery, who had a 27-yard catch in the second half, still is learning the offense after four months in the system.
“There’s a lot of intricacies to our offense with rules and assignments — not just with running the ball, but in pass protection and running routes,” Nagy said. “So we’re kind of easing him into it. I know everyone wants instant gratification and wants the great fantasy stats right away in Week 1. We want production.
“I love the kid. I think the kid’s going to have a very great future, but there’s going to be a little bit of a wait here, a balance as we figure out what’s best and how to use him, along with Mike and Tarik.”