CHICAGO (AP) — As soon as Roquan Smith saw the ball tipped at the line, he knew what he had to do.
The star linebacker raced in front of the intended target, and four plays later, the Chicago Bears celebrated one wild victory.
Smith set up Cairo Santos’ game-ending field goal when he intercepted Davis Mills deep in Houston territory, and the Bears beat former coach Lovie Smith and the Texans 23-20 on Sunday.
Khalil Herbert ran for a career-high 157 yards and two touchdowns. And Chicago rushed for 281 yards even though top running back David Montgomery exited in the early going with knee and ankle injuries.
The Texans had third-and-1 at their 26 when defensive tackle Angelo Blackson reached up with his right hand and tipped a pass intended for Rex Burkhead. Smith, who missed practice all week because of a hip injury, intercepted it at the 30 and returned it to the 12.
Chicago had Herbert run, then downed the ball twice before Santos nailed a 30-yarder as time expired.
“It was big time just being available, but I was focused all week because I knew I was going to give myself a shot to play in the game,” Smith said. “I still wasn’t all the way there but, hey, halfway is better than no way. I’m happy.”
Smith was largely a nonfactor through the first two games after missing the preseason. He opted to “hold in” with contract extension talks at a standstill and wound up returning to practice in late August with no new deal.
His status for this game got thrown into question when he showed up on the injury report during the week after being hurt in last week’s loss at Green Bay. But he came through with the big play, putting the Bears in position to pull out a tight win.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Smith said. “It fell right to me. They say catch the ones that come right to you, and I did it and the rest is history.”
Mills thought he made the right read, and he credited the Bears’ defense.
“We talk about it a lot: Tip balls never touch the ground,” he said. “Got through my progression, made the correct read, had Rex open and just, the ball got tipped at the line. Nothing I can really do about it there. Good play by the defense.”
The Bears (2-1) angered their fans with conservative calls at times and were booed loudly at the end of the first half when they opted to run out the clock rather than use any timeouts with Houston (0-2-1) leading by one.
Justin Fields had another difficult game. But the Bears at least did enough to bounce back against a struggling team after losing to the rival Packers.
The Texans dropped their second in a row after blowing fourth-quarter leads in a season-opening tie with Indianapolis and loss to Denver.
Herbert, whose previous high was 100 yards as a rookie last season, made it 10-0 when he scored from the 11 in the first quarter. He also broke off a 52-yard run early in the third and ran it in from the 1 to give the Bears a short-lived 20-17 lead.
Fields was 8 of 17 for 106 yards. The former Ohio State star threw two interceptions and had a 27.7 rating.
Montgomery walked off the field in pain on Chicago’s second possession after his right leg got rolled up on while he was pass blocking. Coach Matt Eberflus said the news on him was “good” and he’ll be “day to day.”
Eddie Jackson intercepted a pass in the end zone in the second quarter.
Smith, who led the Bears to an 81-63 record and a Super Bowl appearance from 2004-12, is 0-3 against his former team. That includes losses with Tampa Bay in 2014 at Soldier Field and 2015 at Raymond James Stadium.
Mills threw for 245 yards, completing 20 of 32 passes. He had a touchdown and two interceptions against a defense missing top cornerback Jaylon Johnson because of a hamstring injury.
Dameon Pierce ran for 80 yards and a TD. Chris Moore had a 52-yard reception.
Jalen Pitre became the second rookie in Texans history to record two interceptions in a game, joining Dunta Robinson against the Raiders on Oct. 3, 2004. He also had a sack in the closing minutes.
Texans: No injuries were reported.
Bears: WR Byron Pringle (calf) was injured on the same play as Montgomery and left the game.
Texans: Host the Los Angeles Chargers on Oct. 2.
Bears: Visit the New York Giants on Oct. 2.