DETROIT — Safety Eddie Jackson knew where the ball was going.
When Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford took the snap with 6:09 to play in a tie game, Lions tight end Michael Roberts ran into the left flat. Wide receivers Kenny Golladay and Bruce Ellington, who were split left, ran slants to try to cause a Thanksgiving traffic jam in front of Jackson.
Jackson, though, beat Roberts to the ball, catching it at the Lions’ 41 and sprinting untouched to the end zone. His Turkey Day takeaway was the decisive touchdown in the Bears’ 23-16 victory Thursday at Ford Field, their fifth in a row and third in 12 days.
In the 1½ seconds it took Stafford to take the snap and throw, Jackson sprinted from the 49-yard line in the middle of the field to the 41-yard line at the numbers and undercut the two receivers who tried to get in his way. Stafford saw him sprinting from center field, but he “thought we’d outflank him.”
“My eyes stayed on [Roberts], and then at the right time, I got my eyes back on the quarterback as the ball was coming,” Jackson said.
Jackson high-stepped his way toward the end zone, holding the ball out in his right hand. He backpedaled the last couple of yards and flipped the ball to a fan dressed like Mike Ditka. Then he led the defense — and a few offensive players who had snuck over from the sideline — in an “up-down” football-drill celebration.
It was Jackson’s second pick-six in as many weeks, and the third of his 27-game career. The three are more than 25 NFL teams have in the same span.
“Winning by that touchdown with Eddie — he’s had an unbelievable season so far,” coach Matt Nagy said. “One that I don’t know if I’ve ever seen.”
The Alabama alum has five defensive touchdowns — three interceptions and two fumble returns — in his first two seasons. That ties former Jets safety Erik McMillan for the most in a player’s first two years. And Jackson has five more games — and possibly the playoffs — to try for another.
“He is a highlight waiting to happen,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said.
The interception came at the perfect time.
When the Bears’ defense needed one more, they got it. After Jackson’s score, the Lions faced a third-and-nine at the Bears’ 11 with 1:07 to play. Stafford threw into the end zone — and into cornerback Kyle Fuller’s hands.
Minutes earlier, the Bears looked the part of a sluggish team whose last game ended 85 hours before this kickoff. After a scoreless first quarter, the Lions struck first.
Bears tight end Trey Burton fumbled the ball away, and the Lions faced a fourth-and-one at the Bears’ 16. Stafford threw a pass right at inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, who tried to catch the ball, hit it with both hands and popped it in the air. Fullback Nick Bellore plucked the ball out of the air for a five-yard gain and a first down.
LeGarrette Blount scored two plays later, his first of two four-yard touchdown runs.
The Bears countered with Cody Parkey’s 40-yard field goal and a 10-yard pass from Chase Daniel to Taquan Mizzell with 40 seconds left in the first half.
The Bears went for two and failed, and the Lions did the same in the third quarter after Blount’s second touchdown.
Subbing for injured quarterback Mitch Trubisky, Daniel was efficient in his third career start, completing 27 of 37 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns. His 14-yard pass to Tarik Cohen gave the Bears a 16-13 lead about a minute into the fourth quarter. Six minutes later, the Lions decided to kick rather than go for it on fourth-and-one from the Bears’ 2. Matt Prater’s 20-yarder tied the game at 16.
After the Bears punted, Jackson jumped the route.
“He’s always looking to score every game,” Amukamara said. “I know he definitely wants respect in this league. After today, I’m sure, without a doubt, he’s gonna get it.”