Leonard Floyd saw it coming.
“I told [Eddie Jackson] I had a dream last night that he just balled out today,” said Floyd, the second-year Bears outside linebacker. “And he went out and did it.”
Just a couple of weeks ago, the idea of a Bears defensive back getting a takeaway — let alone scoring a touchdown off of one — would have been ridiculed as a dream. On Sunday, it was celebrated as one. And the defense has earned the right to dream even bigger than that after Jackson’s two return touchdowns highlighted a second consecutive grand performance in a 17-3 victory over Cam Newton and the Panthers at Soldier Field.
“We’re definitely trying to change the culture,” Floyd said. “We’re trying to wake the city up, bring the city back to loving the Chicago Bears. And we’re going to keep fighting, keep going out and executing. And looking forward to next Sunday.”
It remains to be seen if Sunday’s performance was a watershed -moment for a defense that hopes to rank among the NFL’s elite or a short-lived burst of excellence that serves as a reminder of how effective the Bears’ defense could have been. But for now, it’s a pretty good place to start.
• Jackson’s 75-yard fumble return and 76-yard interception return for touchdowns in the first half gave the Bears three defensive touchdowns in the last two games. In fact, in victories over the Ravens and Panthers, the defense has scored more points (21) than it has allowed (12).
“This is probably one of the best performances I’ve been around as a defensive player,” said cornerback Prince Amukamara, whose defection led to Jackson’s interception and touchdown return. “But we know there’s more for us to get out there. They had over 20 first downs. It’s great that we know we can get better.”
• In a testament to the balance on defense, six players had a hand in five sacks of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton. Danny Trevathan set an early tone with a sack on the Panthers’ second play from scrimmage. Floyd, Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman/Mitch Unrein and Pernell McPhee also had sacks.
“Dogs, man. We’re playing like dogs,” McPhee said. “We’re playing like animals. We’re playing like -maniacs. And we deserve to play like that because it’s been a long time coming.”
• As Amukamara noted, the defense wasn’t perfect. The Panthers converted six of 15 third-down situations, including third-and-15 and third-and-13. But the Bears rose up in key moments. On fourth-and-two at the Bears’ 25-yard line with 6:33 left in the third quarter and the Bears leading 14-3, the Panthers went for the first down. Newton hesitated on a sneak, waiting for an opening that never came. Goldman, with help from Jonathan Bullard and Trevathan, stopped him for a one-yard gain, and the Bears regained possession.
That’s how hot the defense is. Offenses are going right at their strength when they’re on a roll. As good as Newton is, that’s almost making it too easy.
“Literally, I just came off the ball and waited, waited,” Goldman said, “and I saw him and I tackled him.”
When Newton drove the Panthers 68 yards to the Bears’ 15 in the final 66 seconds of the first half, the Panthers committed a false start, ending the half. Amukamara’s -deflection that led to Jackson’s interception wasn’t just a random break, but the byproduct of good preparation.
“Coach Ed Donatell put in our tip-sheet, ‘Hey, two-by-two, wide split … expect the slant. And I recognized that formation,” Amukamara said. “He ran that route. I put my hand where his hand was, and glad Eddie made the play.”
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