Bears rookie running back Tarik Cohen was counting on the Falcons’ defense to overrun his toss play. Its speed, while valuable, can cause it to do that.
And then Cohen would burn them with his.
‘‘Atlanta has a very fast defense,’’ Cohen said. ‘‘I had beat them on the first toss. So when we got another toss, I saw that they were heavily overpursuing, so I tried to cut back. It went the right way.’’
That’s because it went for 46 yards.
On a toss play to his left from the Bears’ 28, Cohen stopped, reversed direction and caught Falcons outside linebacker Brooks Reed out of position. The Falcons didn’t chase Cohen down until he reached their 26-yard line.
It was Cohen’s best highlight on day full of them. He was a player who deserves attention despite the Falcons’ 23-17 victory Sunday at Soldier Field.
A fourth-round pick from North Carolina A&T, Cohen is the Bears’ best offensive threat. And that won’t change until rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky takes the field. Cohen is the kind of edge-of-your-seat player the team has been lacking for years.
Despite the Bears’ loss, Cohen’s teammates cheered up when speaking of him. Young, promising difference-makers will do that. Receiver Josh Bellamy described Cohen as a ‘‘game-breaker’’ and a ‘‘freak.’’ Tight end Zach Miller called him a ‘‘baller.’’
‘‘We saw something in him that we needed,’’ coach John Fox said. ‘‘It’s not something we have had here, at least in our tenure.’’
Cohen’s numbers were impressive. He had five carries for 66 yards, eight catches on 12 targets for 47 yards and three punt returns for 45 yards. His 158 all-purpose yards were the most by a Bears rookie in his debut.
Cohen scored on a 19-yard catch-and-run in the fourth quarter after he inexplicably was left open in the right flat. He also was the quarterback on an option play that resulted in running back Jordan Howard’s four-yard touchdown run in final seconds of the first half.
‘‘The secret’s out on what we have in [Cohen],’’ quarterback Mike Glennon said. ‘‘He’s a playmaker, and we’re lucky to have him. He’s going to continue to be a big part of the offense.’’
Cohen’s big day could have been even better, though. He wasn’t on the field for three of the Bears’ final four plays — and he should have been.
After the Bears reached the Falcons’ 5, Glennon threw three consecutive incomplete passes, including one Howard dropped at the 1. Cohen was on the field for the Bears’ final play, but Reed beat right tackle Bobby Massie to sack Glennon.
If Glennon had completed his throws to Bellamy, Howard or Miller, it wouldn’t have been an issue. But Cohen, whose late inactivity Fox blamed on injuries and substitutions, was the best thing the Bears’ offense had going, and he was a spectator in the most important moments.
‘‘I don’t feel any type of way about that,’’ Cohen said. ‘‘I know we have a lot of playmakers all around this team, and just because I’m not on the field doesn’t mean that a play can’t be made. I know [offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains] has tremendous confidence in everybody else on this team, just as he does myself.’’
Another encouraging sign was that Cohen, who is listed at 5-6 and 181 pounds, apparently can take a beating. He endured punishing hits from Falcons linebacker De’Vondre Campbell and safety Keanu Neal.
‘‘I don’t care about his stature,’’ Miller said. ‘‘He’s a man. He took a ton of shots and hopped back up like a stud.’’
Cohen can deliver his own shots, too. He barreled through Falcons cornerback Desmond Trufant for his touchdown.
‘‘He’s not scared of nothing,’’ Bellamy said. ‘‘He’s small, but he’s tough. He’s got the heart of a lion.’’
It was all part of Cohen’s outstanding debut.
‘‘Everytime he gets the ball, something special could happen,’’ Miller said. ‘‘And you’ve got to be on your toes because he can squirt out of there and take it the distance. The kid can just do so much. He’s going to be a special player for a long time.’’