CHICAGO — The Bears debuted plenty of new faces in Sunday’s 2017 season-opener, but the player who stood out most was a rookie.
Chicago lost to Atlanta, 23-17, to fall to 0-1 on the season, but 22-year-old running back Tarik Cohen gave his team and Bears fans a source of hope.
The viral videos that featured Cohen during his days at North Carolina A&T got him noticed by NFL scouts. When the Bears selected him with the 119th overall pick in this year’s draft, Cohen had to answer the question of whether he could translate the skills from those videos to the professional level.
For one game, at least, Cohen was able to do just that.
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He was the Bears’ leading receiver Sunday, as he caught eight of Mike Glennon’s 26 completed passes for 47 yards and a touchdown. He also led the Bears with 66 rushing yards on just five carries. He even returned three punts for 45 yards.
Cohen after the game praised his teammates when asked about his performance.
“Besides the fact that we didn’t come up with the win, it went pretty good,” he said. “The offensive line did a tremendous job blocking for me, springing me for good runs. Mike (Glennon) did a tremendous job getting to the check-down and getting me the ball.”
Cohen’s first big play came in the second quarter. The Bears had second-and-7 from their own 28-yard line when they tried to run him left. The Falcons defense swarmed that side of the field, so Cohen put on the brakes, cut back to the right, dodged a couple defenders and got a block from Glennon, of all players, to cut loose for 46 yards.
Then, with 20 seconds left before halftime, the Bears lined up in the “Wildcat” formation with Cohen at quarterback. He handed the ball of to Jordan Howard on a delayed draw, and Howard ran it in for a 4-yard touchdown.
Then, early in the fourth quarter, Glennon threw the ball to Cohen, who ran down the sideline nearly untouched for a 19-yard score. Cohen also showed his toughness despite his 180-pound frame by taking plenty of big hits only to get right back up each time without hesitation.
“When it comes to taking hits, we play the game of football,” Cohen said. “I feel like a durable enough back to take those kinds of hits.”
Bears coach John Fox also was happy with what he got from the running back.
“We got a rookie out there that had a pretty good day both running and catching,” Fox said during his postgame press conference. “(Cohen) didn’t surprise anybody that’s in that locker room.”
Cohen averaged 13.2 yards per run, 5.9 yards per catch and made himself a featured part of the Bears’ offense in the process. He touched the ball a total of 20 times, and he says he was prepared for his fair share of snaps.
“I knew it was coming — it was in the game plan,” he said. “I felt like I had a good matchup for the whole game.”
Added Falcons coach Dan Quinn: “We knew he had such an explosive career at A&T. This guy can catch, then he’s back there on a punt return so he is that type of back. You can split him out wide and use him as a receiver. They have a good combination with the big back that can pound in between the tackles (Howard) and a guy that can get outside (Cohen).”
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It’ll be interesting to see how teams game plan for the Bears down the stretch as they take Cohen into consideration. But as the Bears do their own future game-planning, there’s no doubt they’re excited about his potential.
“I think the secret’s out on what he have in him,” Glennon said. “We knew how good he was going to be with us, and he showed that today.”
And while Cohen would have preferred a victory, he’s happy to be contributing from the start.
“It felt great to still be able to produce like that at this level,” he said. “Coming from college (and) scoring touchdowns every game, and to just start my NFL career with a touchdown, it feels great.”