A strong defensive performance led the Bears to an impressive 17-3 win over the Carolina Panthers Sunday at Soldier Field. Here are three things that stood out in the Week 7 victory:
(1) Rookie safety Eddie Jackson made NFL history by displaying the same ball skills and big-play ability he demonstrated at Alabama.
It appears that Bears general manager Ryan Pace knew exactly what he was doing when he traded up five spots in the fourth round of the draft to select Jackson. Exactly one year after breaking his leg while returning a punt for the Crimson Tide, the rookie safety became the first player in NFL history to score two defensive touchdowns of at least 75 yards. Jackson accomplished the feat with a 75-yard fumble return and 76-yard interception return.
The former Alabama star scored the game’s only two touchdowns, staking the Bears to a 14-0 second-quarter lead. “I think you saw what he brings to the table when he gets the football in his hands,” said tight end Zach Miller. “He’s a playmaker. He’s all over the football field. Eddie 14, Carolina nothing at one point. Hell of a game by him.”
Jackson showed great instincts on both of his touchdowns Sunday. First, he scooped up a fumble in traffic along the sideline and somehow kept his feet inbounds as he raced to the end zone. Later, he accelerated to intercept a pass that had deflected high in the air while running at full speed. Jackson made similar plays at Alabama the past two seasons, scoring three touchdowns on interception returns of 50, 93 and 55 yards and two TDs on punt returns of 85 and 79 yards.
(2) Jackson wasn’t the only star on a Bears defense that recorded three takeaways and five sacks and didn’t allow a touchdown for the second straight week.
The Bears harassed Panthers quarterback Cam Newton with a potent pass rush from the outset of Sunday’s game, registering three of their season-high five sacks in the first quarter. They blitzed more frequently than usual, determined to keep Newton from getting comfortable in the pocket. Linebacker Danny Trevathan recorded one of the sacks and also registered his first interception of the season late in the game when he picked off Newton near the Carolina sideline.
The Bears defense has not permitted a touchdown in back-to-back games for the first time since 2005. Asked what has keyed the unit’s resurgence, veteran end Akiem Hicks said: “Not making dumb mistakes. Making sure we’re locked in mentally. You go the whole week and you try to focus on what you’ve got installed and what you’re going to do. You want to go to a game and execute just as well as you did in practice.”
The Bears defense allowed just one field goal on 11 possessions Sunday. “You can’t say enough about them,” Miller said. “It’s never fun being on the sideline, but it’s fun watching them run up and down the field and chase Cam all over. I felt like they pressured him all day long, made plays on the back end. I’m proud of the way they played and proud of the way they really carried our team all day.”
(3) The Bears offense wasn’t very productive, but the unit did not commit any of the turnovers or costly penalties that were problematic early in the season.
The Bears were held to five first downs and 153 total yards while converting only 2-of-11 third-down opportunities (18.0 percent). Employing a run-oriented attack, rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky completed just 4 of 7 passes for 107 yards and a 101.8 passer rating. But the offense did not commit a turnover for the first time since the season opener against the Falcons. That forced the Panthers to drive the length of the field—Carolina started all 11 of its drives in its own territory—something that proved to be very difficult against an inspired Bears defense.
Despite throwing only seven passes, Trubisky was critical of his performance and vowed to improve. “I thought I played really poor,” said the first-round pick. “I just have to be better overall. I did pretty good with the operations, but we have to be better with the pass game to open up the run game. We just have to continue to be more balanced. I’m going to get better in practice this week, but I’m also going to have to watch the film. We didn’t score as an offense and the defense carried us, so we kind of felt salty that we couldn’t help out more than we did.”
After being sacked four times, Trubisky conceded that he was occasionally holding onto the ball too long. “We’re just finding ways to win games,” he said. “We had more pass plays called, I was just pulling them down, being conservative and taking sacks. I was just trying to play smart, protect the football and get out of here with a win. We just have to get better in the pass game, and that falls on me.”