The instincts and ball skills that earned Eddie Jackson two trips to the Pro Bowl in 2018 and 2019 were on display once again in Sunday's season opener.
With the Bears leading the 49ers 13-10 early in the fourth quarter at soggy Soldier Field, the veteran safety darted in front of receiver Jauan Jennings and intercepted a Trey Lance pass at the San Francisco 47.
Jackson scrambled to his feet and returned the pick 26 yards to the 49ers' 21, setting up a Khalil Herbert 3-yard touchdown run that gave the Bears a two-score lead en route to a 19-10 win.
"We knew that when they get in those stacks, they like to [run] a two-option play," Jackson said. "So we saw tight end and just played the eyes [of Lance]."
The interception was the first for Jackson since the 2019 season finale in Minnesota. The 2017 fourth-round pick recorded 10 interceptions in his first three seasons before being blanked the last two years.
"It felt good, especially in a situation and time like that to come up big for the team," Jackson said. "Coach called a great call."
Dynamic duo: Jackson was impressed with the performance of fellow safety Jaquan Brisker. The rookie second-round pick recorded four tackles, recovered a fumble and registered one tackle-for-loss in his NFL debut.
"Like I told him, we're going to be the best duo they've ever seen," Jackson said, with Brisker a few feet away nodding his head in agreement. "He came up with that big play early. They were driving the ball and he recovered it. We're just going to continue to come out here and capitalize and feed off each other and continue to make plays. I'm proud of him."
Peanut punch: The fumble that Brisker recovered thwarted the 49ers' first drive of the game. San Francisco had reached the Bears' 16 when cornerback Jaylon Johnson punched the ball out of the hands of Deebo Samuel on a running play.
Johnson employed the same "Peanut Punch" technique that former Bears cornerback and fellow No. 33 Charles Tillman made famous throughout his 12-year career in Chicago.
"I saw the ball and I punched it," Johnson said. "I'd assume it hurts [the offense], especially coming from their best player, them trying to put the ball in his hands and us establishing early that we're coming. I feel like that really did us good to get that turnover early."
Asked when he tries to punch the ball loose, Johnson said: "You definitely have to know the situation, when to punch, the yards and what's going on in the game. Really, it's more of a feel. But if you don't punch, you don't have an opportunity [to force a fumble].
Catch this: The Bears' first TD came on Justin Fields' 51-yard pass to Dante Pettis. The second-year quarterback escaped pressure in the pocket, rolled to his left and then threw back to a wide-open Pettis.
"I didn't see where he was when I turned around," Pettis said. "I saw everybody floating that way, so I figured he was over there. But I couldn't see what was going on and then all of a sudden it kind of opened up a little bit, and I saw him set up to throw."
Pettis was surprised at how wide open he was on the play.
"I literally looked around for a second [and thought], 'OK, I really am this open,' because normally there's someone behind you," he said. "Normally no one throws it back across the field like that, so I think everyone just flowed with Justin when he rolled out and completely just forgot about me."
Pettis caught the ball at the 30 and raced down the sideline, picking up a key block from fellow receiver Equanimeous St. Brown.
"That was great," Pettis said. "EQ was over there. Great block. Got in his way long enough and helped spring me for the touchdown."
Not easy: The Bears took their first lead of the game early in the fourth quarter at 13-10 on Fields' 18-yard TD pass to St. Brown in the back of the end zone.
"It really wasn't supposed to go to me like that," St. Brown said. "It was supposed to go to the fullback. But after I did my route, I spun out open."
The TD was the second of St. Brown's career; his first came when he played for the Packers on a 21-yard reception from Aaron Rodgers Dec. 27, 2020, in a 40-14 win over the Titans.
"Anytime you get a touchdown—it's not easy to score in this league—it means a lot, especially helping the team win," St. Brown said.
Stepping up: Rookie defensive end Dominique Robinsonrecorded 1.5 sacks in his first NFL game. Midway through the first quarter, the fifth-round pick sacked Lance on third down, forcing the 49ers to punt.
"It was fun," Robinson said. "It happened so quick and I didn't have any sack celebration planned or anything."
Robinson delivered again midway through the third quarter when he and Roquan Smith teamed up to sack Lance on third-and-goal from the Bears' 4, forcing the 49ers to settle for a field goal that gave them a 10-0 lead.
In the slop: Cairo Santos had an uncharacteristically rough day in sloppy conditions. With heavy rain flooding the field, he missed two extra point attempts, the first wide right and the second wide left.
"It was challenging," Santos said. "Every time I planted my foot, sinking in standing water. So just challenging. It's my job to execute and I didn't do that. I'm disappointed how my kicks went in the game. It's not how I envisioned it based on how the warmups went. I thought I handled that good. Sometimes it's just like that and I've got to bounce back."
The new Bermuda grass that was installed at Soldier Field last week wasn't the problem.
"The quality of the grass was great," Santos said. "I was really happy to see that. The amount of rain just made it hard. You're kicking on standing water."
Santos entered Sunday's season opener having made 96.6 percent of his extra point attempts (224 of 232) in eight NFL seasons. He missed one extra point try each of the past two years and had never missed two in one game until Sunday.
Unusual flag: Santos was setting up for a 47-yard field goal late in the first half when officials huddled and then assessed a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on holder Trenton Gill, forcing the Bears to punt.
The rookie was flagged for bringing a towel onto the field and cleaning a spot to place the ball.
In an interview with a pool reporter after the game, referee Clay Martin explained the call, saying: "You cannot bring what we consider a foreign object – this was not a towel that would go on a uniform – out to alter the playing surface. We felt that provided an unfair advantage, using the towel to wipe down the area where the ball was going to be placed … If he used it to wipe his hands and had thrown it away, we would have been okay with it. To put it on the ground and alter the playing surface where we were going to spot the ball, that's why we called a penalty."
Off on the right foot: Matt Eberflus became the fourth Bears coach since George Halas retired in 1967 to win his first game. He joins Neill Armstrong (1978), Dick Jauron (1999) and Marc Trestman (2013). Coaches who lost their debuts were Jim Dooley (1968), Abe Gibron (1972), Mike Ditka (1982), Dave Wannstedt (1993), Lovie Smith (2004), John Fox (2015) and Matt Nagy (2018).
On the shelf: Rookie receiver Velus Jones Jr. missed Sunday's opener with a hamstring injury. Other Bears inactives were safety Elijah Hicks, defensive end Kingsley Jonathan, guard Ja'Tyre Carter, guard/tackle Alex Leatherwood and tight end Trevon Wesco. The 49ers played without star tight end George Kittle (groin).
This and that: Teven Jenkins started at right guard, but Lucas Patrick replaced him to start the Bears' third possession and the two continue to rotate every few series the rest of the game … The Bears and 49ers have now alternated victories over their last eight meetings, with the Bears winning in 2014, 2016, 2018 and 2022 and losing in 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2021 … The Bears have now won three straight home openers with previous victories coming over the Giants in 2020 and Bengals in 2021.