Aaron Rodgers seal of approval good enough for Bears’ Jaylon Johnson

The Bears cornerback knows he will have a tough time getting Pro Bowl recognition without any interceptions — especially on a 3-10 Bears team. But a Rodgers compliment (“Jaylon is a premier player.”) is all the validation he needs. “I take pride in that,” Johnson said.

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Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson (33) breaks up a pass for Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) in the Bears’ 35-32 loss on Nov. 6 at 2022.

Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson (33) breaks up a pass for Dolphins wide receiver Jaylen Waddle (17) in the Bears’ 35-32 loss on Nov. 6 at 2022.

Quinn Harris/Getty Images

Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson had another quiet day Sunday — just two tackles with no pass breakups, no interceptions or any “splash” plays in a 28-19 loss to the Packers. About the only time he was mentioned was when he was called for holding.

All he got out of it was another loss — and the admiration of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

“Jaylon is a premier player,” Rodgers said following the game at Soldier Field.

That compliment — another measurement of his contribution that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet — is treasured validation for Johnson.

“I take pride in stuff like that,” Johnson said. “I play the game with a lot of pride and respect. Getting interceptions isn’t the only way to impact the game [or] get respect. Your peers validate you. Not the media. Not the outside people looking in. They respect me coming into that game and they respect me leaving that game as well [as] what I put on film, based on my abilities.

“To me it’s not about popularity. It’s about what my peers believe of me — my team, the quarterbacks and people on the offensive side that I play against.”

That’s good, because Rodgers’ seal of approval might have to suffice as far as recognition goes for Johnson’s 2022 season. With Roquan Smith traded, Johnson is the Bears’ best defender. But on a team that is 3-10 and at a position in which quarterbacks can avoid him, making the Pro Bowl is unlikely — even though Johnson feels he has played well enough to deserve it.

Johnson has no interceptions, and still just one in his three-year NFL career. Even his pass breakups have dropped as quarterbacks test him less and less. Johnson had 15 PBUs in 13 games as a rookie in 2020, nine last season and four this season. Johnson has one forced fumble (against the 49ers in the season opener) and one fumble recovery (against the Falcons in Week 11).

“Pro Bowl comes from popularity,” Johnson said. “And popularity comes from making highlight plays. I wouldn’t feel I’ve had enough highlight plays to be able to say, ‘I’m a Pro Bowl player.’

“[Do] I think I’m a Pro Bowl caliber player? Hell, yeah. But that comes with picks. The picks are looked at as highlight plays, no matter if it’s a tipped pick, you were beat on the play, the dude falls to the ground, the ball pops up — you get two or three of those, [and people say], ‘Oh, yeah he’s a good guy. He’s got three picks.’ But you were beat. I haven’t been in those [situations]. I haven’t gotten any tipped picks. I haven’t gotten all those opportunities.”

And, of course, the Bears’ 3-10 season doesn’t help matters.

“Being on a losing team, people look down on everything you do individually,” Johnson said. “It’ like, ‘Oh, the Bears are a [bleep]-show. The Bears are this. The Bears are that.’ It’s hard to gain popularity votes when there’s so much negativity from the outside.”

Johnson also has not had many marquee matchups, in which he shadows the opponent’s best receiver. Justin Jefferson had 12 receptions for 154 yards against the Bears. Tyreek Hill had seven for 143 yards and a touchdown.

After a bye week in his hometown of Fresno, California — “daddy-daughter time [and] a Christmas event for my non-profit” — Johnson is looking forward to matchups against the Eagles’ A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith on Dec. 18 and the Bills’ Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis on Christmas Eve.

“I don’t want to say I circle the games, but I look forward to those matchups,” Johnson said. “A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Diggs, Gabe Davis. Those premier matchup guys — like I’ve said from Day 1 since I got in this building — it’s something I want.”

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