Overcome by excitement, Roquan Smith flipped the football from his first career pick-six to a lucky Bears fan in the stands Sunday at Soldier Field.
"In the moment, I wish I would have kept it," Smith said after his 53-yard interception return touchdown helped lift the Bears to a 20-17 win over the Bengals. "But I'm sure it made [the fan's] year."
Smith made all of Bears Nation happy with his first touchdown since he was a prep star at Macon County High School in Georgia. It was one of four straight takeaways a resurgent defense produced Sunday, one week after a disappointing performance by the unit in a 34-14 season-opening loss to the Rams.
Smith was impressed with how the defense stuck together, telling reporters: "There was a lot of adversity we faced last week, a lot of people saying this and that. But we don't really care about that. It's about the guys that are in that locker room and the guys that are on that defense. We were more worried about playing to the best of all of our ability. We knew if we do that, a lot of great things can happen."
Smith's pick-six enabled the Bears to extend their lead to 17-3 early in the fourth quarter. He intercepted Joe Burrow's pass over the middle, deftly eluded running back Joe Mixon and raced down the left sideline.
Update pending: Coach Matt Nagy said the Bears will know more about Andy Dalton's knee injury in the next day or two. The veteran quarterback sustained the injury on a 14-yard scramble early in the second quarter. Dalton returned for the next series but then exited and did not return.
"He came out the next series and he took a sack and I saw he was kind of limping a little bit," Nagy said, "so we got it looked at and then he went in at halftime and then coming back out … he was our backup. He would have been able to go in in an emergency, but as the quarters went on, it was getting a little bit sore. So, we'll see. We'll know more here in the next 24, 48 hours as to where he's at and everything, but he's tough, man."
If Dalton is unable to play next Sunday in Cleveland, Nagy said that he'd be comfortable starting rookie quarterback Justin Fields.
"Like I've said with Justin, he's probably further along than we thought at this point right now," Nagy said. "If that's the case, then we feel good about it. He's worked really, really hard to get to this point. Even today, in that moment as a rookie, coming on in in that situation, [he was] super calm, super cool."
Takeaway time: The Bears generated three interceptions and four takeaways for the first time since Sept. 23, 2019 when they had three picks and five takeaways in a 31-15 Monday night road win against Washington.
"That was definitely big," Smith said. "Last week obviously wasn't to our standard. We came out and made a lot of plays this week, so that's always good and that's encouraging. [We've] just got to build off it."
Need to capitalize: While Smith scored his first career touchdown, the Bears offense mustered only two field goals off the defense's other three takeaways.
After Tashaun Gipson Sr. returned a fumble that was caused by Eddie Jackson 13 yards to the Bengals' 39, the Bears advanced to the Cincinnati 5. But Fields was called for a false start on third-and-5 and then his pass intended for Allen Robinson II in the end zone was broken up.
In the fourth quarter, Angelo Blackson returned an interception six yards to the Bengals' 9. But the Bears settled for a second Cairo Santos field goal after Fields was unable to connect with Darnell Mooney on third-and-goal from the 4. Blackson's pick came on a pass that was deflected by blitzing linebacker Christian Jones.
"Being able to not take advantage of that as an offense in the red zone states the obvious," Nagy said. "We have to be able to get more [points] and that's where I think we're going to really hit that hard this week and see the why part."
See the game unfold through the lenses of our sideline photographers as the Bears face off against the Bengals at Soldier Field.