THE MORNING AFTER: Tarik’s the talk of the town
CHICAGO – Even after the game he was making the highlight reels.
In front of a swarm of microphones and a collection of cameras, the Bears’ newest running back gave the assembled media one more memorable moment at his locker late Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field.
“People don’t realize he’s a quick back,” said Tarik Cohen when asked about his teammate Jordan Howard. “Smart, quick on his feet, and as you said tremendous size.”
It was a natural question considering that the players not only split time in the 2017 season opener but also combined on a touchdown in a “Wildcat” formation in the second quarter where Cohen handed it off to Howard rushed in a score.
But how Tarik managed to take the answer an entirely different way is what made it a memorable soundbite.
“Just to be able to play with that type of back, it’s just like playing in Cleveland with (Isaiah) Thomas and LeBron (James) right now,” said Tarik of his teammate.
A bold comparison, indeed.
This is a rookie running back comparing his teammate, a second-year player, to the newly paired All-Star point guard and perhaps the best player in the NBA with the Cavaliers.
But for the media who got this memorable piece of sound might have been ready for this sudden surprise. After all, they'd seen it over the past 60 minutes on the field just outside of the locker room against the Falcons. Cohen proved to be all he showed in the games that didn't count in the first one that did in his rookie season.
“He’s a baller. Ain’t no denying the fact that the kid is special," said tight end Zach Miller of the running back's first game against Atlanta Sunday. "All over the place too – in the backfield, catching footballs split out and running after the catch. He’s special, and it’s fun playing ball with him.”
Fun's not a word associated with the Bears in recent years, but it was Sunday. Shifty runs out of the backfield, cutbacks that led to big gains, small yardage pick-ups that featured a flair for the dramatic all made a 23-17 defeat to the Falcons a little easier to take. Especially after the Bears failed to gain a handful of yards in the final seconds that would have delivered a monumental upset victory.
Cohen's performance paints a pretty picture of the first chapter of the Bears' 2017 season.
"Obviously we saw something in him that we needed," said head coach John Fox of Cohen. "It’s not something we have had here, at least in our tenure. I was pleased with how he fared today.”
It was something that had to be seen to be fully appreciated. The stats weren't overly gaudy: 66 yards rushing on five carries with a team-leading eight catches out of the backfield for 47 yards and a score. Yet the way he did it made him quite unique - using his quickness and agility to create thrilling yet productive plays at different parts of the contest.
A 15-yard run in the first quarter got the fans on their feet and led to Connor Barths' 54-yard field goal. In the second, he went to his left then cutback to his right and took off down the field for a 46-yard gain. In a true rarity in the Fox era, Cohen finished the drive by taking the direct snap and handing to Howard who swept to his right for the score.
Even his first touchdown on a reception had flair, as he made the catch on the pass from Mike Glennon and then went through Desmont Trufant for the score.
“It felt great to still be able to produce like that, at this level," said Cohen. "Coming from college, scoring touchdowns every game, and just to start my NFL career with a touchdown, it feels great.”
A lot of those watching felt the same about the player wearing No. 29 in 2017. Not since No. 23 - Devin Hester - has one player possessed the ability to make an explosive play out of nothing while wearing the Orange and Blue. If the preseason showing's weren't enough, the proof was in the production when the game counted.
“I think the secret’s out on what we have in him," said Glennon of Cohen. "We knew how good he was going to be with us and he showed that today. His very first game in the NFL,
and he did it all."
Even his words after the game produced a memorable moment, too.