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‘Santa’s Sleigh’ comes a little early for Chicago and its backup tackle

‘Santa’s Sleigh’ comes a little early for Chicago and its backup tackle
Bears offensive tackle Bradley Sowell (79) celebrates a touchdown reception with teammates during the second half Sunday. (Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

It was a prime-time game on a see-your-breath Sunday night, in this frigid city so steeped in NFL history. Rams versus the Chicago Bears, a 15-6 slugfest, was truly a throwback game.

As in, “I want that throw back.”

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Quarterbacks Jared Goff of the Rams and Mitchell Trubisky of the Bears turned back the clock … to when they were rookies.

In a pivotal showdown between NFC powerhouses, the young passers had happy feet leading to unhappy results — forced throws that were off-target at best, picked off at worst. They had a combined seven interceptions, and Goff, who had four (counting a Hail Mary at the end of the first half), also was sacked in the end zone for a safety.

The way Bears defensive tackle Akiem Hicks sees it, keeping Goff out of his comfort zone, and the end zone, came down to simple economics.

“We bought Khalil Mack,” Hicks said of the play-wrecking outside linebacker who came to Chicago in a trade with Oakland. “He’s as advertised. He’s that good.”

Mack had one of Chicago’s three sacks, and forced a fumble, but his wasn’t a virtuoso performance. It was a collective effort by a Bears defense that handed Goff a 19.1 passer rating and limited Todd Gurley to 28 yards in 11 carries.

“It’s a great defense,” Rams coach Sean McVay said. “They did a good job of getting some pressure, and then they played tight coverage. There really just weren’t many plays to make tonight because of some of the selections I had. So certainly don’t blame Jared for a lot of the bad spots I put him in.”

The game was a setback for the Rams, who would have secured a first-round bye with a victory, but wasn’t utterly devastating. To this point, they had avoided stubbing their toe, as every other one of the top teams in the league had done at least once this season.

Perhaps the most costly part for the Rams is they lost the inside track on the No.1 seed in the NFC, slipping behind New Orleans, and the Saints are a far better team when they can stay home in the Superdome.

It was an unpredictable Sunday around the league, when four last-place teams came away with victories: the New York Jets and Giants, Oakland, and San Francisco.

A comeback was tantalizingly close for the Rams — who two weeks earlier scored 54 points in a wild win over Kansas City — but they simply couldn’t budge in the face of Chicago’s smothering, third-ranked defense.

The Rams pulled their weight on defense, too, but were as cold and flat on offense as an iced-over Lake Michigan. The crowd, bundled for the 25-degree night, bounced with glee — and to keep the blood flowing — as the Bears stuffed the NFL’s hottest team into a meat locker.

“I couldn’t say that we ‘broke their spirit,’ because they were fighting until the end,” Hicks said. “They are a very good team. They’re going to be the Rams tomorrow, right? And they’re still going to be a really good team in this league and in the playoffs.

“What I will say, though, is that we just had it tonight. We had a lot of heart and a lot of focus, and we just pulled it out.”

There was an old-school, grind-it-out feel to the game, so it was somewhat fitting that the only touchdown was scored by a backup offensive tackle. It was a two-yard toss to Bradley Sowell on a play that featured three defensive linemen in the offensive backfield.

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The play was called “Santa’s Sleigh,” and started with a fake handoff to 332-pound Hicks, who a week earlier scored on one called “Freezer Left,” a nod to former defensive lineman William “Refrigerator” Perry, remembered for his rumbling, earth-moving touchdown plunges.

This time, the spotlight was trained on Sowell, who learned Friday that he might hear his number called in the game.

When he heard the play in the huddle?

“I just wanted to breathe,” he said. “I was [thinking], execute the play first.

“But when you actually catch the touchdown, you just blank out. I had no clue what happened after that.”

He certainly looked as if he expected to score, immediately breaking into a touchdown dance.

“I have to give credit to my daughters,” he said. “I was like, listen, ‘Dad may score, and I need some help with this.’”

It wasn’t a banner night for Trubisky, who threw for 110 yards with three interceptions and a 33.3 rating, but he was plenty happy after returning from two games off while recovering from a shoulder injury. Whether or not it was a thing of beauty, it was a landmark win for the Bears.

“Santa’s Sleigh — ho, ho, ho,” he said, holding tight to a memory he won’t relinquish.

“We got some big boys in there; it was an awesome play,” he said of the touchdown. “When we first installed it, we put it in the incubator… ‘If we get down there, we need to call this.’ Santa’s Sleigh. Came a little early.”

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