CHICAGO — Things were looking a little dicey for the Chicago Bears when Aaron Rodgers hit Randall Cobb on a 16-yard pass down to the Chicago 9-yard line, even with the Bears leading 24-14 with four minutes remaining.
Rodgers appeared to be heating up, and a flag was thrown after Bears safety Eddie Jackson came in and walloped Cobb after the catch. After a discussion, the referees picked up the flag and ruled Jackson hit Cobb with a shoulder and not his helmet — a refreshing change of pace from common officiating.
That was a relief for the Bears, but they still had work to do. It was not goal-to-go with the Packers threatening to make it a one-score game late. Anyone who watched Rodgers’ wizardry against the Bears in Week 1 — or at myriad points throughout his career against Chicago — knows what he’s capable of.
But on third down, the Bears were able to do what no team has done since Week 4: intercept Rodgers. He had gone 402 straight passes without getting picked, which is an NFL record, but Bears safety Eddie Jackson was able to haul in a deflected pass in the end zone to help close out what would end up a 24-17 Bears victory, one that wrapped up the NFC North for Chicago.
It also potentially came at a cost, however. Jackson decided to bring the ball out of the end zone for a return instead of taking a knee for a touchback with just over three minutes left in the game. As Jackson was cutting back to his left to escape two Packers offensive linemen, WR Randall Cobb cut him off. Jackson stepped awkwardly and sprained his right ankle.
"When you saw the play, it looked pretty bad," cornerback Prince Amukamara said. "But Eddie’s a fighter, so hopefully it’s not too bad."
He would not come back in the game. Deon Bush replaced Jackson on the following series. Coming into the game, Jackson had played 97.1 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps and has had a Pro Bowl-level season.
Bears head coach Matt Nagy called the injury a “sprain” and that the team will “probably know more here in the next 24 to 48 hours.” Asked if it was a sense of relief that the initial diagnosis was a mere sprain, Nagy said: “Yeah, I think so. We’ll see how it goes. … He’s a pretty big part of this defense.”
With a playmaker such as Jackson, it’s hard to tell him to take a knee. After all, this is a player who came into the game with seven career interceptions, 150 return yards on those picks and three touchdowns. Perhaps he was too aggressive in that situation, suffering a bad-luck injury in the process, but Nagy didn’t appear to want to damper Jackson’s knack for being a sniper and a player who can flip a field on almost any pick.
All Nagy needed to do was look over at former Bears free safety Doug Plank, who was listening to Nagy speak after the game, to demonstrate his point. Plank, who played eight years for the Bears from 1975-82, had 15 career interceptions and became the man for whom Buddy Ryan’s famed “46 defense” was named after, given that it was Plank’s uniform number.
“Your instincts when you catch the ball, as Coach Plank will tell you, you pick those balls off and you want to go,” Nagy said. “You want to score.”
At this point, Plank nodded and smiled. Nagy and Plank go way back, with Plank coaching him in the Arena League.
“He did that, and [yet Jackson] wanted to get down, he just got caught in between a little bit. So it’s unfortunate. We’ll keep an eye on it and make sure we do everything we need to do to make sure he gets it right.”
The pick itself was an impressive defensive play where all three levels of the defense contributed to the game-clinching turnover.
The Bears rushed three on the play, although Khalil Mack — after dropping initially — came late. Still, the pressure was good, with Leonard Floyd bull-rushing Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari back into Rodgers’ throwing space.
“I knew I needed to rush but stay in my lane so Aaron couldn’t break the pocket and make a big throw,” Floyd said.
He did that. But on the back end, even with the Bears dropping seven into coverage, it appeared Rodgers had tight end Jimmy Graham running with a step on Bears linebacker Roquan Smith and with Danny Trevathan too far away to help. But Smith dove and just got a finger on the throw to deflect it up into the air.
"Ro made that possible," Bears safety Adrian Amos said. "He made a nice play on the ball and Eddie just went up and got it. He made the right call [bringing the ball out], it was just bad luck."
In stepped Jackson like a ninja to pick it. That was Jackson’s sixth interception of the season, trailing only Kyle Fuller on the Bears for the team lead, and it came against the toughest starting quarterback in the NFL to pick this season. Interestingly, on both of Rodgers’ interceptions this season he was targeting Packers tight end Jimmy Graham on passes that were tipped.
“That’s part of the game,” Rodgers said. “I’ve had two interceptions in however many attempts [this season]. I feel pretty good about the way I’ve taken care of the football this season.”
And the Bears feel pretty good about the way they’ve taken away the football this season. Jackson’s pick was their NFL-leading 26th, and it came at the perfect time with the Packers knocking on the door. The Bears, in beating them at Soldier Field for the first time since 2015, locked it shut.
Now they must wait to see whether the team will get good news on Jackson, one of their most important playmakers on defense. After losing cornerback Bryce Callahan last week and linebacker Aaron Lynch to a potentially serious arm injury in this game Sunday, the Bears can’t afford too many more personnel losses.