Just like he did last year, Bears running back Khalil Herbert personified the next-man-up philosophy Sunday at Soldier Field.
After starter David Montgomery exited with ankle and knee injuries midway through the first quarter, Herbert rushed for a career-high 157 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in a 23-20 win over the Texans.
"I was getting in a rhythm and the O-line did a great job of opening up things for me, allowing me to get in that rhythm," Herbert said. "Once you get in a rhythm, you start feeling things, you start feeling hot, and you're able to just do stuff."
Herbert's 157 yards were the most in a game by a Bears running back since Oct. 15, 2017, when Jordan Howard ran for 167 yards on 36 carries in a 27-24 overtime win over the Ravens in Baltimore.
Montgomery was injured while pass blocking when 296-pound defensive tackle Michael Dwumfour landed on the back of his right leg. Herbert carried the ball on three of the next four plays, gaining 8 and 11 yards followed by an 11-yard touchdown that gave the Bears a 10-0 lead.
The TD was a well-designed and perfectly executed play. Left guard Cody Whitehair, tight end Cole Kmet and fullback Khari Blasingame all made blocks at the point of attack for Herbert, who bounced the run outside and then cut back to safety Jonathan Owens. Left tackle Braxton Jones and right tackle Larry Borom also made key blocks on the play.
"We practiced it all week," Herbert said. "We played against this kind of defense all through fall camp and spring. Lucas [Patrick] did a great job pulling, 'KB' (Blasingame) did a great job picking up his block, and I was just able to fit right off it, cut inside, cut outside and get in the end zone."
The touchdown provided an emotional lift for the Bears and the Soldier Field crowd after Montgomery's exit. Herbert described it as something to "really just get the juices going, get everybody back in the game."
On the Bears' first play of the second half, Herbert provided another shot of adrenaline with a career-long 52-yard run. Taking a pitch to the right, he cut up the middle, eluded a tackler in the secondary and sprinted toward the left sideline. It was the longest run by a Bears player since Montgomery's 57-yarder Nov. 29, 2020 in Green Bay.
"O-line did a great job of opening up a massive hole," Herbert said. "KB did a great job of kicking out. Everybody did a great job of blocking downfield. We were looking at the pictures on the sidelines, we could have drove a bus through there. It was a really big hole. It was my job to make the safety miss and I was able to do that."
Four plays after Herbert's 52-yard scamper, his 1-yard TD run on third-and-goal gave the Bears a 20-17 lead.
Meanwhile, the news on Montgomery's injury initially was good, with coach Matt Eberflus telling reporters after Sunday's game: "He's going to be day-to-day, so that's a positive. We'll see where he is [Monday] and re-evaluate it from there. It's a positive, for sure."
If Montgomery is forced to miss any time moving forward, the Bears are more than confident in Herbert, who excelled in a similar situation during his rookie season last year. In four games that Montgomery missed with a knee injury from Weeks 5-8, Herbert rushed for 344 yards, the fourth most by an NFL running back during that span.
"[I'm] always ready," Herbert said. "Always ready when my time is called. Ready for any opportunity I get and try to make the most of it."
Check out the best images—taken by Bears photographers—from Sunday's victory over the Texans at Soldier Field.