The second half of the Bears’ Thanksgiving Day victory was far from the most impressive performance by their defense this year, but ultimately it was S Eddie Jackson who made the play of the game, something he’s done with amazing frequency.
The Bears had allowed the Lions just 110 total yards and 3.5 yards per snap in the first half, but they were gashed for 223 yards and 6.8 yards in the second half.
It’s the defense, arguably the NFL’s best, which is supposed to be what carries this Bears team, especially when faced with difficult situations such as playing two games in 88 hours. But it gave up a 9-7 lead in the third quarter and a 16-13 lead in the fourth quarter when a 73-yard Lions drive ended in a game-tying Matt Prater 20-yard field goal.
That drive could easily have ended with the Bears trailing by four points, since the Lions had a second-and-2 at the Bears’ three-yard line. But Akiem Hicks and Jackson stopped LeGarrette Blount (88 yards on 19 carries) for a one-yard gain, and on third-and-1 QB Matthew Stafford threw incomplete to TE Michael Roberts.
“In the end, our guys made plays when they needed to,” Nagy said of the defense. “We made some big stops. Great play by (No.) 39, by Eddie Jackson and Akiem Hicks there. That was a big part of the game in my opinion, to get that stop there and not allow them to score the touchdown.”
Jackson was just warming up. After the Bears went three-and-out, he picked off Stafford on the Lions’ next play and took it back 41 yards for the final points in a 23-16 Bears win.
“Eddie did a great job of reacting to the quick game,” Nagy said. “He made a great catch and run afterwards. Obviously that was the turning point in the game.”
Thursday’s pick was Jackson’s fourth this year and his fifth defensive score in 27 games as a pro. No NFL player has ever scored more defensive touchdowns in his first two seasons, and only the Jets’ Erik McMillian (1988-89) has scored as many. It was Jackson’s second pick-6 of the season and gives him three since the start of his rookie season last year, more than 25 of the 31 other NFL teams. Jackson also has returned two fumbles for touchdowns, including one this year. He has the most defensive touchdowns in the league since the start of the 2015 season, two years before he reached the NFL.
Jackson went 27 yards for a pick-6 Sunday night against the Vikings and 65 yards with a fumble recovery against the Bills in Week Nine. Last year as a rookie, he had a 75-yard fumble return for a touchdown and a 76-yard interception return for a score – in the same game.
“He’s playing on another level right now,” Nagy said. “He’s very instinctual. He’s playing with a lot of confidence. I haven’t been around too many guys -- safeties and defensive backs -- that have the awareness and instincts that he has. And then he’s got great ball skills. A lot of times we joke that these DBs are back there because they can’t catch. Well, he doesn’t fall into that category. This guy could be playing some wide receiver.”
Jackson played there in high school, as well as defensive back. He’s lined up as a wide receiver a couple times this year for the Bears on gimmick plays but has yet to get the ball, and wide receiver is where he wanted to play when he enrolled at Alabama.
“That’s actually where my heart was at coming out of high school, but when I got to Alabama things changed,” Jackson said.
“Amari Cooper,” Jackson said.
Jackson wasn’t so much told he couldn’t stay at wide receiver, but it was clear his opportunities to get on the field would come a lot quicker on the other side of the ball. He appears to have made the right decision, but he never lost that offensive mentality and desire to get into the end zone.
“The mindset is always, ‘Just score,’ ” he said. “It’s not just to get it and be happy with a turnover, you always try to capitalize and get six points.”
His approach is working. Jackson has as many touchdowns this year as another superstar Alabama wide receiver, Julio Jones, who’s gotten his three touchdowns on 84 receptions for 1,305 yards.