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A-Train left in station on big play
Of all the things Anthony Thomas did Sunday in his first 100-yard rushing game of the season, it was the one thing he didn't do that stood out most in the Bears' 29-23 loss to New Orleans.
On third-and-2 from the Bears' 44-yard line and the Bears up 23-21 with 3 minutes 27 seconds to play, offensive coordinator John Shoop called for a short pass to Marty Booker on a flanker screen. Booker caught it but was promptly corralled out of bounds for no gain.
It turned out to be one of the more glaring missed opportunities on a day full of them, and the prevailing question was:
Why not Thomas?
Thomas finished with 111 yards on 27 carries for a 4.1-yard average to go along with four receptions for 27 yards. So why not him? Shoop, explaining that in the game plan they consider the pass essentially a run play, wondered that himself.
"I have no problem when it's third down and crunch time thinking people more than I think plays, and my mind immediately went to Marty Booker," Shoop said.
"In hindsight, I wish we'd handed it off to Anthony going right up the middle, but it's a play we practice a great deal and Marty knew to stay inbounds except he was stretching to get the first down. It ended up being a bad play twofold because not only did we not get a first, but the clock stopped as well. We understand those risks when we called the play. Obviously, I wish I had it back."
Quarterback Jim Miller sounded as if he wished it as well. "Hindsight is everything, so I wish we had another call there," he said. "That's one play, [but] calls like that can cost you football games."
If Thomas wished it as well, he wasn't saying. His 111 yards marked his fifth career 100-yard rushing day and first since the 2001 finale against Jacksonville, in which he rushed for 160 yards on 33 carries.
And it came as a welcome breakout after he ran for 45 yards on 19 carries against Minnesota in the opener and 84 yards on 26 carries last week at Atlanta. But Thomas would not beat up Shoop for not calling his number one more time.
"That's Shoop's job," Thomas said. "They gave him the opportunity to make those calls, and I don't have any say over that. I'm just a person [who] whenever my number is called, I try to do the best I can."
It was just the sort of day on which Thomas thrives, pounding the ball 27 times, including a long gain of 24 yards on a first-quarter scoring drive in which he carried the ball on four of the six plays. But Thomas typically deflected any opportunity for self-promotion.
"I'd rather get 50 yards and win than 100 yards and lose," he said. "My personal goals take a back seat to this team right now. Team first, that's the main thing. When we get a win, that's what I'm happy with."
With Miller and Leon Johnson chipping in a carry apiece, the Bears finished with 125 yards on the ground, but Thomas said the running game is a long way from being perfectly in sync.
Is is still "a split second off," Thomas was asked?
"I'd say more than a split second," he said. "There's a lot of things we need to work on, and I think it jells more as the season goes on. Now they're bringing in a lot of new things every week. We were prepared, but not [enough]."