Bears Humble Rams With Defense (and a Highly Unlikely Touchdown)
The Los Angeles Rams have M.V.P. candidates in Jared Goff and Todd Gurley, with the pair combining to power the N.F.L.’s No. 2 offense this season. On Sunday night, those stars combined for one fewer touchdown than Bradley Sowell, an offensive tackle for the Chicago Bears.
That shocking statistic is made no less strange by the fact that the 2-yard touchdown pass from Mitchell Trubisky to Sowell was set up by a play-action fake to Akiem Hicks, a 330-pound defensive lineman, on a play in which Chicago had sent several members of its defense onto the field for what looked like a goal-line rush.
Such was life in one of the stranger meetings of top teams in recent N.F.L. history. The Bears, finally back at full strength with Trubisky under center, showed that their defense can slow down absolutely any team. And the Rams, who had come into the game with an N.F.L.-best record of 11-1, left Soldier Field trying to figure out what went wrong. It all added up to a 15-6 victory for Chicago.
FAT GUY TOUCHDOWN ON SUNDAY NIGHT!
Fake to Hicks, touchdown to Sowell.pic.twitter.com/s04a7pvfPz
NBC’s Michelle Tafoya asked Hicks about holding the Rams offense without a touchdown, and the defensive lineman exploded with enthusiasm.
“That’s it. That’s all you can say to that,” he shouted. “And we want more!”
The game was sloppy from the start and didn’t get much cleaner. The teams combined for four field goals (on six attempts), seven turnovers and eight punts. But the lone touchdown, as unlikely as it may have seemed at the time, was executed to perfection.
In a way, Chicago had set up the play last week when Hicks powered his way through the Giants’ line for a touchdown in the Bears’ 30-27 loss.
This time around, the Bears were at the end of a long drive, in which they went 79 yards on the previous eight plays. With a third-and-goal at the Rams’ 2-yard line, Coach Matt Nagy sent out a jumbo package full of defenders, with Hicks lining up as a running back behind Trubisky. Hicks sold the play-action fake well, as Sowell, a 6-foot-7, 310-pound tackle broke free to the right side of the end zone.
Trubisky threw the ball high to a wide-open Sowell and the lineman easily plucked it out of the air for the score.
Sowell, who dropped the ball and broke out into an elaborate dance, explained after the game that he had gone over his post-touchdown moves with his daughter before the game. It was his first career catch, and it came on a play in which he and five other linemen all reported as eligible receivers.
“It was surreal,” Sowell said. “Hats off to Akiem for selling the run.”
Hicks concurred, saying “I sold my heart out.”
For the Rams, who staked a claim as the top team in the N.F.L. by outlasting the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 11, the loss, even on the road, had to sting, as it came on a night when their defense, which has often struggled to match the quality of the team’s offense, performed well. The unit had three interceptions, two of which included long returns, and it limited Trubisky to a passer rating of 33.3.
But Chicago’s defense, led by Khalil Mack, Hicks, and a standout secondary, was simply better. The group combined for a safety, four interceptions, three sacks, seven quarterback hits, and limited the high-powered Rams to just 214 total yards.
Neither Goff nor Trubisky managed to pass for even 200 yards, and Gurley was limited to 28 on the ground, making the game’s only offensive stars — beyond Hicks and Sowell, of course — Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Chicago’s running backs combined to carry the ball 28 times for 170 yards.
The Rams, who have already clinched the N.F.C. West, failed in their first shot at clinching a first-round bye, and fell behind the New Orleans Saints in the race for home field advantage throughout the N.F.C. playoffs heading into next week’s matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Bears, who improved to 9-4, have a significant advantage over the Minnesota Vikings for first place in the N.F.C. North and will host the Green Bay Packers next week.
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