Khalil Herbert walked into the Bears’ locker room after the best game of his career, grabbed his phone and texted David Montgomery.
“That was for him,” Herbert said.
Montgomery, the Bears’ starting running back, had left Sunday’s 23-20 win against the Texans in the first quarter with injuries to his right knee and ankle. On a pass play, Montgomery was pushed by Texans safety Jalen Pitre back onto defensive tackleMichael Dwumfour, who rolled up on his leg.
Montgomery’s injury looked ugly. While the Bears’ locker room was somber, head coach Matt Eberflus tried to paint his situation in hopeful, albeit vague, terms. He called Montgomery “day-to-day” and said the Bears would reevaluate him Monday.
“It’s a positive, for sure,” he said.
Herbert more than filled in for Montgomery, running 20 times for 157 yards.
“It’s like he was running for two back there,” right guard Lucas Patrick said. “What he did is special. Like any back, to run for that [yardage] is special.
“But to step up when one of our offensive leaders goes down and to do that and say, ‘Don’t worry –I got us,’ it invigorates all of us. It inspires all of us.”
Herbert is the ninth Bears running back ever to run for more than 155 yards in a game. The Bears’ 281 rushing yards Sunday were the most they’ve totaled since Sept. 30, 1984, against the Cowboys. They averaged seven yards per carry, the 11th-best clip in franchise history, against the Texans.
Herbert led the way.
“[I’m] proud of the way he ran the ball,” quarterback Justin Fields said. “Proud of the way our offensive line blocked for him. Just proud.”
Their three longest plays were all runs –a 29-yard Fields scramble, a 41-yard Equanimeous St. Brown fly sweep and Herbert’s career-long 52-yarder on the Bears’ first offensive play of the second half.
“A lot of things have to happen wrong,” Texans coach Lovie Smith said, “for them to be able to get some of those plays.”
Herbert made an impact immediately. The Bears handed off to him on three of the next four plays after Montgomery limped off the field. He gained eight yards on the first carry and 11 yards on each of the next two, including a bruising touchdown.
“It really just gets the juices going, gets everybody back in the game,” Herbert said. “We’re just trying to find a way to win anyway we can.”
With the Bears’ pass game stuck in the stone age, Herbert figures to get plenty of opportunities as long as Montgomery is out. He’s been efficient all season –he averaged 6.4 yards per carry, the fourth-most in the league, entering Sunday’s game — but had run only 11 times.
Herbert’s 20 carries Sunday were three short of a career high set last year, when he was the Bears’ lead back for four games with Montgomery hurt.
“Once you get in a rhythm you start feeling things, you start feeling hot, and you’re able to just do stuff,” Herbert said.
Montgomery, whom the Bears consider a team leader, is in the last year of his rookie contract. He was coming off one of his best career games; he ran 15 times for 122 yards against the Packers.
“[Montgomery’s] play style represents a lot of what we want everyone to play like,” tight end Cole Kmet said. “And you see how physical he plays. Khalil comes in and does a great job. That’s pretty cool, to see guys step up like that.”
Herbert, who admitted to being more sore than usual after the game, will have to step up again.
“Really just making the most of my opportunities,” he said. “I come in with that mindset every week, whether it’s one carry, 20 carries. Just try to make the most of that, and make a play with what I get.”