Someone told Bears rookie safety Eddie Jackson about the quirk of the calendar — or was it fate? — Sunday.
Even after becoming the first defensive player in NFL history to score on two return touchdowns of 75 yards or longer in the Bears’ 17-3 victory against the Panthers, Jackson couldn’t believe it.
Exactly a year ago Sunday, as a senior at Alabama, his left leg was broken so severely that he needed a rod inserted into it days later. That sunk his draft prospects, and the Bears took him with the fifth pick of the fourth round, touting his playmaking abilities.
Those abilities were on full display against the Panthers and almost single-handedly delivered the Bears’ their third victory of the season, matching their total from 2016. For the first time since November 2015, the Bears have won consecutive games.
About six minutes into a scoreless game, Panthers quarterback Cam Newton ran option right. He pitched to Curtis Samuel, a receiver by trade, who dropped the ball. Three Bears and two Panthers dived for it in the right flat, but the ball squirted away toward the sideline.
Jackson scooped it up and sprinted untouched for a 75-yard touchdown, the third-longest fumble-recovery touchdown in team history.
‘‘That definitely turned the tide,’’ defensive end Akiem Hicks said. ‘‘For Eddie to come up with a play like that, it really set the tone for the rest of the game.’’
About 11 minutes later, with the Bears leading 7-0, Jackson did it again. Cornerback Prince Amukamara deflected a slant pass to Kelvin Benjamin, sending the ball flying into the air. Jackson caught it on a dead run at the Bears’ 24 and took off down the right sideline, avoiding Panthers tacklers — including a diving Newton — for a 76-yard touchdown.
‘‘When you’re a DB and you make an interception, don’t get tackled by the quarterback,’’ Jackson said.
Jackson wowed his teammates with the ball in his hands. Linebacker Danny Trevathan, who added an interception in the fourth quarter, did his best Roadrunner impression when talking about Jackson’s returns — ‘‘Meep-meep,’’ he said — and tight end Zach Miller said it was ‘‘Eddie 14, Carolina nothing’’ until a field goal by Graham Gano with 3:18 left in the first half.
‘‘To the crib — he was going to the house,’’ Hicks said. ‘‘He had it in his eyes, and he took it there.’’
That was all the Bears needed. They finished with five first downs; the last NFL team to win with so few did it 11 years ago.
The Bears had 153 net yards. Since the NFL-AFL merger, they had posted fewer 28 times and won only twice.
Rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw only seven passes, completing four. Seventy of his 107 yards came on a pass to rookie running back Tarik Cohen that gave the Bears the ball at the Panthers’ 5 late in the first half. They settled for a field goal snapped from the half-yard line.
The Bears leaned on a killer defense, which sacked Newton five times and held Panthers running backs to 2.8 yards per carry, the rest of the way.
For the second consecutive week, the defense had three takeaways and didn’t allow an offensive touchdown.
‘‘We’re just growing,’’ Jackson said. ‘‘Everyone’s getting comfortable with each other.’’
Follow me on Twitter @patrickfinley.