Jeremy Langford relished his first chance to be the Chicago Bears’ feature back while excelling in the running and passing games, something Matt Forte has done so often throughout his career.
With Forte pushing 30, injured and in the final season of his contract, the rookie’s impressive performance placed credence in Langford’s ability to make the transition into a bigger role should there be a changing of the guard in the Bears’ backfield.
Langford could be counted upon again for a similar effort with Forte’s status up in the air for Sunday’s visit to St. Louis as the Bears face a Rams team hoping to have the newly signed Wes Welker on the field.
A knee injury kept Forte out of Monday night’s game at San Diego. Langford made his first career start and rushed for 72 yards and a touchdown while adding three receptions for 70 yards to help the Bears (3-5) pull out a 22-19 victory.
Chicago’s 109 rushing yards tied its second-most of the season and marked the first time it went over 100 in the last five games.
"Really it was kind of what we expected, and we expected a lot," coach John Fox said of the fourth-round pick out of Michigan State. "He’s explosive. He can take short runs into longer runs. I thought he had a great night."
Forte has been limited in practice, leaving open the possibility that Langford gets the start again. Fox said Forte is considered day to day and will be consistently evaluated leading up to Sunday.
There’s also a question of whether the Bears will be able to have a similar defensive effort after holding the Chargers, who entered with the league’s No. 1 running game, to 77 yards on the ground.
Todd Gurley rushed for at least 128 yards in each of his first four starts for the Rams (4-4) before finishing with 89 and a touchdown in last week’s 21-18 overtime loss to Minnesota.
The rookie averaged 3.7 yards per carry after entering with a league-best average of 6.12.
"I think he’s probably a top-three running back in the league right now," Bears linebacker Lamarr Houston said. "We’ve got to keep him in the box, set the edge and make sure he’s not back there hitting the holes without being stopped."
St. Louis had won back-to-back games before last week, when it converted just two of 16 third downs. It ranks last with a 23.8 third-down conversion rate, something coach Jeff Fisher believes will improve with Welker in the mix.
The Rams signed Welker to a one-year deal Monday after learning receiver Stedman Bailey will be suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Welker said he didn’t rush to sign with a team during the offseason after his wife gave birth to twins but has kept in football shape.
The coaching staff is trying to put together a limited package for Welker given his little time learning the system, but Fisher couldn’t guarantee Welker will play.
"I don’t see myself as being the solution," Welker said. "I’m just here trying to learn the offense and trying to contribute any way I can."
If anything, Welker might be able to provide some insight into the Bears’ offense after playing under Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase in Denver the last two seasons.
Chicago finished with a season-best 446 total yards Monday as Jay Cutler threw for 345 and two touchdowns to become the franchise leader in passing TDs. The second went to Zach Miller, who made a spectacular 25-yard catch with 3:19 to play for the winning score.
Alshon Jeffery caught 10 passes for 151 yards, his third straight 100-yard game.
St. Louis will try to put pressure on Cutler with an imposing defense that is tied for second in the league with 27 sacks. The Rams rank fifth allowing 323.8 yards per game and haven’t given up 200 through the air in any of the last seven.
The main problem has been penalties, with the Rams being flagged for 12 in each of the last two. They jumped offside five times against the Vikings.
"Teams that lead the NFL in sacks usually have a lot of offside penalties, and teams that are at the bottom have few," linebacker James Laurinaitis said. "But we can’t be naive and think it’s not a problem. We recognize it as a problem."
Chicago had won four straight in the series before the Rams’ 42-21 home win Nov. 24, 2013.