Roquan Smith has made big plays in big moments before, but this one was seemed to mean more.
After intercepting a Davis Mills pass at the Texans’ 30-yard line, taking a shot at a pick-6 and getting tackled at the 12 with 1:05 left in the fourth quarter of a tie game, the Bears’ All-Pro linebacker punctuated the celebration by winding up and heaving the ball into the south end zone stands.
“To all my supporters. I threw it to all of them,” Smith said with a big smile. “And saying F-you to all the ones that don’t.”
Smith’s big play not only set up the Bears for a 23-20 victory Sunday at Soldier Field on Cairo Santos’ 30-yard field goal as time expired, but capped a day of rejuvenation for Smith coming off an underwhelming start to the 2022 season. After sitting out practice all week because of a hip injury, Smith had 16 tackles and two tackles for loss in addition to the interception.
It was a welcome performance. The victory didn’t say much about the Bears — who won unimpressively — and even less about quarterback Justin Fields. But Smith’s breakout performance in his third game in Matt Ebeflus’ defense was the closest thing to defining.
“It’s big time,” Smith said. “I’ve showcased what I can do year-in and year-out. Not having [training] camp — first two games still working my way in. But hey — third game normally feeling myself out. So I think [from] here on out you can expect some big things.
“I feel like I can always step it up a notch. I’m always hungry to get better, because I’m on a one-year deal essentially. So I’m just trying to do everything I can to do what I need to do.”
It was the bestevidence yet that Smith can be as productive in Eberflus’ defense as All-Pro linebacker Shaquille Leonard was with the Colts.
“That, to me is getting there,” Eberflus said. “That position, it’s a hot position, and we need production out of that, and he certainly had a really good game [Sunday]. He’s getting comfortable in the defense.”
After a contentious contract “hold-in” during training camp that left him embittered and upset with Bears general manager Ryan Poles, Smith pledged to put it behind him and “bet on myself” in 2022. He didn’t consider the standout performance — or that celebratory heave — a message to Poles or the Bears.
“It’s a message to myself,” Smith said, “Just me telling myself what I always tell myself –I’m the best in it.”
Smith made his plays count. When the Texans had a first-and-goal at the 5-yard line late in the first quarter, Smith tackled rookie running back Dameon Pierce for a two-yard loss. Eddie Jackson intercepted Mills in the end zone on the next play.
When the Texans had a third-and-one from the Bears’ 2-yard line late in the third quarter, Smith tackled Pierce for a three-yard loss to force the Texans to settle for a field goal that tied the game 20-20.
And finally, on a third-and-one at the Texans’ 26 with 1:13 left in the fourth quarter, Smith stepped in front of running back Rex Burkhead to snare a Mills pass that had been tipped by defensive tackle Angelo Blackson at the one of scrimmage.
“I knew it was third-and-one –I figured the quarterback was gonna try to get the first down,” Smith said. “So I said, ‘OK, I’m gonna break on it and then I took a chance.”
The next thing he knew, the ball was in the stands.
“Then I wondered where the ball went,” he said. “I just tried to throw it so far to say everything. That was the best part … throwing the ball.”
Halas Intrigue Bears Report
Expert analysis and reporting before and after every Bears game, from the journalists who cover the Monsters of the Midway best.