“Historically speaking, 1,300-yard rookie seasons aren’t flukes.”
I wrote that in July for my 90-in-90 profile of Jordan Howard. It’s a true statement. Yet its accuracy was a cover for my concern. You never know about 2nd-year running backs coming off strong seasons. Whether injuries, talent regression, pressure from a backup, or the league figuring you out, I’ve seen plenty of stud rookie RBs dip in Year 2.
Todd Gurley of the Rams comes to mind, but to keep it in Chicago, Matt Forte, Anthony Thomas, and Rashaan Salaam were all 1,000-yard rookies who didn’t repeat their success in their 2nd season. Obviously their paths diverged from there — point being, I was cautiously optimistic this year about Jordan Howard.
Scrap the “cautious.”
Jordan Howard, NFL Rushing Ranks, 2017
- Yards, 4th (662)
- Attempts, 3rd (162)
- Touchdowns, t-6th (4)
- 1st downs, 3rd (36)
- 100-yard games, t-6th (3)
- Yards per attempt, 25th (4.1)
And while his performance keeps him among the league’s top backs, he is approaching a Bears milestone. I needn’t remind you of our running back history. Yet even with Sweetness and Sayers, Bronko and Work Horse, Jordan Howard has a chance to do something no other Chicago Bears has ever done:
Become the first Bear to rush for 1,000+ yards in each of his first two seasons.
Eight Bears running backs hit 1,000 yards in either their 1st or 2nd season. No one has done it in both:
At 662 yards, Howard is on pace for 1,324 yards, which would top his rookie mark of 1,313. If he does that, he will join Walter Payton as the only Bears players with multiple 1,300-yard rushing seasons.
Another 1,300-yard season would push Howard over 2,600 for his career, shattering what I think is the record for most rushing yards in one’s first two seasons with the Bears. That would be Thomas Jones with 2,283 yards in 2004 and 2005.
Jones doesn’t show up on this list (see below), which is sorted for just players whose first two NFL seasons were in Chicago. But I cannot think of any other veteran RB who joined the Bears and then busted off more yards than TJ in his first two Bears seasons.
Anyhow, here is the list (without Jones or any other free agents or tradees — and please remind me in the comments if I’m missing someone). As you can see, Howard is already climbing:
Howard’s production this season has led to probably every Bears fan’s favorite stat of the first half of 2017: three wins. In our first win, over the Steelers, Howard busted off his 1st 100-yard game of 2017, rushing for 140 yards and two touchdowns, including the walk-off (run-off) score in overtime.
His 2nd 100-yard game of the season came in our 2nd win, with 167 yards on an astounding 36 carries against the Ravens.
The next week we beat the Panthers — The Eddie Jackson Game — and Howard was mediocre. But in two other games, against the Falcons and the Saints, Howard’s performance was close to putting us over the top.
The loss to the Saints last week is particularly telling. Howard had his 3rd 100-yard rushing game of the season, but when the team needed him most, they for whatever reason did not use him.
That was after Adrian Amos forced and recovered a fumble to give the Bears the ball and a chance to win. With 2:12 remaining in the game and the Bears down five from the New Orleans 30, the team threw four straight plays.
That included a 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1, with no runs to speak of. WCG friend Adam Hoge summed it up best:
#Bears had two downs to get 1.5 yards. Two timeouts. Threw the ball both times.— Adam Hoge (@AdamHoge) October 29, 2017
Like I noted earlier, Jordan Howard has rushed for 36 1st downs, the 3rd most in the NFL. Le’Veon Bell leads the league with 45. Howard is one of the best in the game at punching in short yardage conversions. If we’d called his number in either of those spots, we might well have had a 1st down, and might well have driven for the win.
With all the craziness in that game that went against us, (Zach Miller’s bogus non-touchdown, Kyle Fuller’s field goal penalty, what looked like Drew Brees fumbling and recovered by Fast Eddie, only to be ruled an incomplete pass), not giving our offensive MVP the ball in a situation made for him was our biggest case of being too-clever-by-half.
Instead of a 1st down, we came up short. A possible win became a definite loss. For the 13th time in a 16-game season, the Bears are 3-5. Only once has a 3-5 Bears team reached the playoffs.
If we want to make it twice, I’ve got some advice.
Let the Bulldozer bulldoze.
Jack M Silverstein is WCG’s Bears historian and author of “How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls.” Say hey at @readjack. As always, thank you to Pro Football Reference.
Author’s note: Lester has Akiem Hicks as the team’s midseason MVP, and that’s a hard one to argue. But the man pushing him most of all is Howard.
Bears fans — who is your Bears MVP?
Who has been the midseason MVP for the Chicago Bears?
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