Roquan Smith sends loud, clear message with game-winning pick vs. Texans

Roquan sends loud and clear message with game-winning INT vs. Texans originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

CHICAGO – Roquan Smith wouldn't say it directly, but the smile on his face after the Bears' 23-20 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday was worth a lot of money.

The Bears' star linebacker was everywhere Sunday at Soldier Field, and he delivered when the Bears needed it most.

With the game tied at 20 and under two minutes to play, the Texans lined up to convert a third-and-1 from their own 26. Quarterback Davis Mills dropped back and looked left to complete a short pass to move the sticks. Smith read the play and broke on the ball. Defensive lineman Angelo Blackson got a finger on it, and Smith stepped in front of Rex Burkhead before the fluttering ball could reach its intended target.

The 25-year-old linebacker took the ball back to the Texans' 12-yard line before launching the ball into the Soldier Field stands. A few plays later, Cairo Santos drilled a game-winning 30-yard field goal, and the 2-1 Bears celebrated a sloppy victory.

One made possible by their best player.

This was an important moment for a guy playing on a de-facto one-year contract while searching for the record-setting payday he craves. A message to the Bears? Maybe. But Smith won't say that.

"I think it's a message to myself, just me telling myself all the time what I always tell myself — I'm the best in it," Smith said with a big smile after the game.

Smith was borderline invisible during the Bears' Week 2 loss to the Green Bay Packers. He was questionable entering Sunday with a hip injury.

He felt healthy enough to go, and Sunday's performance shows he's finally finding his rhythm in the WILL linebacker position after missing most of camp due to an injury and his contract hold-in.

Given his uncertain future in Chicago, moments like Sunday hold much greater value to Smith than they have in the past.

"So I'm always hungry to get better cause, hey, I'm on a one-year deal essentially. So I'm just trying to do everything I can to do what I need to do," Smith said.

Smith's final ledger reads 16 tackles, two tackles for loss, and that game-winning interception. Those 16 tackles are tied for the second-most in his career.

It was a dominant performance in a game the 2022 Bears couldn't afford to lose. With Justin Fields and the Bears' passing attack doing next to nothing, it was up to Smith and the Bears' defense to find a way to win.

There was no other option.

"That's a big time, big time play," safety Eddie Jackson said. "Ro is one of our leaders so I'm not surprised he came up with that play. I thought he was going to score it, so I'm going to get on him for that."

Smith's contract negotiations with general manager Ryan Poles and the Bears were contentious this offseason, to say the least. Smith ended his hold-in and bet on himself, knowing full well the Bears could franchise tag him at the end of the season.

The Bears wanted to see if Smith, a prolific tackling machine, could thrive in the WILL linebacker spot in head coach Matt Eberflus' defense. Smith led the team in tackles in Week 1 before going MIA against the Packers. He reappeared Sunday in a big way and with a loud message when he delivered a win and rifled the game-winning interception deep into the Soldier Field stands.

"To all my supporters," Smith said when asked who he threw the ball to after the pick. "I threw it to all of them and saying F.U. to all the ones that don't."

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