CINCINNATI — Coach John Fox’s best challenge seemingly in forever was actually rookie safety Eddie Jackson’s.
‘‘He just [saw] how I reacted to it,’’ Jackson said when asked about his strip of Bengals receiver A.J. Green that initially was ruled an incomplete pass. ‘‘He came up and said, ‘Eddie, I challenged that one because of you.’ It was a great call by him.’’
It remains to be seen whether Fox will be a part of the Bears’ future, even after a 33-7 rout Sunday of the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, but there’s no doubt Jackson will be. The fourth-round pick from Alabama, who turned 24 on Sunday, celebrated with two takeaways in the second half that sparked the Bears’ biggest romp in five seasons.
Jackson intercepted a short pass by Andy Dalton that was deflected by Green, who was under pressure from nickel back Bryce Callahan, to set up a touchdown drive that put the Bears in command 26-7 in the first minute of the fourth quarter.
On the Bengals’ next possession, Jackson stripped the ball from Green after a 20-yard gain just as Green was stepping out bounds. Fox, who previously had lost what seemed like an ill-advised challenge on an illegal forward pass by Mitch Trubisky, threw the challenge flag. The play was reversed upon review, and the Bears drove 80 yards on seven plays for a 33-7 lead that put the final touches on the blowout.
Those takeaways were the first by Jackson since he made NFL history by scoring touchdowns on a 75-yard fumble return and a 76-yard interception return in the Bears’ 17-3 victory against the Panthers in Week 7 at Soldier Field.
It’s not a coincidence that Jackson’s two-takeaway games have come in the Bears’ two most convincing victories — in fact, their only victories in regulation during a 4-9 season.
‘‘Eddie’s proven that he’s always going to be around the ball,’’ cornerback Prince Amukamara said. ‘‘He saved my butt with that strip he made. He’s one of those guys, he’s not going to drop those tips. He takes advantage of every opportunity and definitely should be in talks of being in the Pro Bowl.’’
Jackson’s takeaways were only part of a major contribution by the Bears’ rookie class. Trubisky threw for a career-high 271 yards with a 112.4 passer rating. Tight end Adam Shaheen had four receptions for 44 yards and a one-yard touchdown. Running back Tarik Cohen supported Jordan Howard’s 147-yard performance with 12 carries for a career-high 80 yards.
It might turn out that this performance was more a fortuitous event than a watershed moment — facing the down-and-out Bengals on a short week after an emotionally and physically draining game against the rival Steelers. But to at least some extent, the victory was some long-awaited confirmation that the rookies are growing.
‘‘You can definitely feel it,’’ Jackson said. ‘‘Everybody has a different mindset. We’re not thinking like rookies; we’re thinking like ballplayers. Coach Fox said: ‘I don’t care about your age. If you’re a baller, you’re a baller.’ We just keep that in the back of our mind, like we’ve got to show these guys they can depend on us.
‘‘We’re trying to play for the culture, where we want to be next year. Even though we can’t go to the playoffs this year, it’s a great chance to start and build on it. That’s our mindset . . . getting it back to Chicago Bears football. We’ve got to change the standard, and we’re starting with these last four games.’’
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