Six days before the Bears' 30-12 win over Las Vegas, cornerback Jaylon Johnson had his eyes set on defending six-time Pro Bowl receiver Davante Adams.
Adams spent the first eight years of his career in Green Bay, making it a familiar matchup for both parties. Johnson told reporters: "[the Bears] know, you guys know, Davante knows, those are the matchups I want."
Ever since Johnson was thrust into the role of covering an opponents' top receiver in his second NFL season, he's wanted "every big matchup" he could get. On Sunday, Johnson rose to the challenge of helping cover Adams alongside rookie cornerback Tyrique Stevenson.
Matched up against Adams with 5:46 left in the game, Johnson watched quarterback Brian Hoyer's eyes as they locked with the All-Pro receiver. Before Adams could break on the ball, Johnson did, caught the ball and took it to the end zone, securing his first interception since Sept, 19, 2021, and first career touchdown.
"It feels good for me, just confidence in knowing I can make plays," Johnson said. "At the end of the day it's about opportunities and I know for me, I don't want to miss any opportunities. So just today being able to capitalize just felt good and reassured me of who I am. I know what I can do and I know I can take the ball away. It's just about opportunities and taking advantage of them."
Johnson's pick was a long time coming and quickly became contagious when the he secured a second interception less than 90 seconds later. This time, Johnson stepped in front of a deep ball from Raiders backup QB Aidan O'Connell intended for receiver Jakobi Meyers and made the leaping grab to seal the Bears' victory.
Swarmed by Bears defenders and coaches after both interceptions, Johnson was grateful for his big-time moment. But Johnson's teammates, who appreciate how he approaches his job each day and his undeniable passion in the locker room, were just as ecstatic as he was.
"It meant the world to him," Stevenson told reporters in the locker room. "After the second pick, I walked up to him and gave him a hug. You could feel the emotion. It's something he's been wanting, something we've been praying about, something we've talking about."
"He had a hell of a game," defensive tackle Justin Jones said. "I was just happy for him. He works hard day in and day out. First one on the field, last one off. Always in the film room, always challenging the guys around him. So, it's cool to see the work he's putting in is paying off."
"He's just a guy who brings it every single day no matter if it's practice, game, walkthrough, he's on his details," linebacker T.J. Edwards said. "When you can rely on a guy like that, it's huge for you as backers. You understand that that side of the ball is taken care of. He's an unbelievable player and I'm just happy he got to make those plays today."
While thrilled with his personal performance Sunday, Johnson was most excited about being able to cap off the Bears' first home win of the season.
"It feels good … Honestly, just going out here and getting the dub for the home crowd, for all of the city, I know it's been a long time coming," Johnson said. "It's really just about giving them what they want. They come out and show up each and every game and give us energy, and it's only right to give them a W."
Johnson's fourth-quarter picks put the dagger in the Raiders, but it was linebacker Tremaine Edmunds' second-quarter interception that got the Bears defense rolling.
With 10:24 to go in the first half, Edmunds lunged for a pass that slipped through the hands of Raiders running back Josh Jacobs and secured the ball, marking his second takeaway in back-to-back weeks. The interception allowed the Bears offense to start at the Las Vegas 34 and reach the end zone six plays later.
"It feels great," Edmunds said of the defense's takeaways. "Obviously, we play this game to win the turnover margin and that gives you a good chance of winning, especially scoring on defense. Tip my hat off to Jaylon, made two big plays … he always works. Everybody works. It's really just — you could put it up in the air who's gonna make the play because we got a lot of playmakers on defense. We just gotta keep repeating this performance, keep repeating taking the ball away and really make it a competition."
Beyond winning the turnover battle by a plus-3 margin, the Bears defense played arguably its most complete game this season.
Starting with the defensive front, the Bears allowed just 39 rushing yards Sunday and have limited opponents to 114 rushing yards over the past three games. The unit hasn't given up a rushing touchdown since the second quarter of Week 3 in Kansas City.
"We have so much confidence in our group when we're firing on all cylinders," Edwards said, "and we were able to do that today. I thought the D-line did such a good job in the run game and we knew we had to take that away from them to get them in dropback scenarios where we could go win, and we did."
The Bears totaled three quarterback hits and one sack, which came from Jones and marked the first time he got to the quarterback this season. Jones called the play "long overdue."
Still, the Bears limited Las Vegas to 235 yards of offense and continued to excel on third downs, allowing the Raiders to convert just two of their nine attempts after recording a season-best 15 percent third down efficiency last week against the Vikings.
As far as the passing game, the Raiders totaled 204 yards through the air and finished with just one touchdown, which came late in the fourth-quarter with the game already put away.
Along with Johnson, Stevenson – who had a career-high three pass breakups —played efficiently against Adams, who caught seven passes on 12 targets for 57 yards. The veteran receiver averaged 8.1 yards per catch, his lowest of the season.
Stevenson said his performance "added to [his] confidence" after seeing he "could go out there and cover a veteran like Davante." Johnson added that Stevenson "did a good job" in limiting Adams' production, particularly in preventing explosive plays.
While in the moment players like Edmunds don't always see the big plays made by the secondary, the linebacker could feel the energy flow through the entire defense.
"It trickles down," Edmunds said. "Those are our playmakers, along with other guys we have out there. We have a lot of playmakers out there that can make those big time plays. Defense, in general, strives off that. It's energy. What one person do, we all feel. I'm just glad that we were able to play fast. I'm glad those guys were able to make those big plays – that's just confidence."
The continued progression from the Bears defense isn't a surprise to any player in the locker room, despite the adversity the unit faced early this season.
While it's taken some time for the players from each level of the defense to mesh, Edwards has seen increased comfortability and cohesiveness that has started to show up on gameday.
"We want to ride this momentum," Edwards said. "When we're all on the same page, we're on our details of our assignment, I think we can be really, really good. For us to make those big plays today, we needed it and it's something we've been preaching since we got here in OTAs. So to make those plays happen is what this team needs, what we should expect. We gotta keep going."
While the defense has stacked a couple strong performances now, the unit isn't letting satisfaction or complacency creep in. Instead, the players are using it as fuel to keep striving toward their true potential.
"The feeling was the same we had when things wasn't rolling," Edmunds said. "We gotta continue to get better. I say that, but I'm being for real. We gotta keep our head down, continue to work. That's the men we have in this room, the leaders we have in this room. It's not time to take our foot off the pedal. Obviously, we want to improve each and every week. That's the mindset now."
Check out the best images—taken by Bears photographers—from Sunday's 30-12 victory over the Raiders at Soldier Field.