Harold Jones-Quartey, undrafted playmakers key Bears victory
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TAMPA, Fla. — Harold Jones-Quartey can’t wait for next week.
“I kind of owe Calvin a little something, so I’m actually looking forward to the Detroit game,” Jones-Quartey said, referring to Lions star Calvin Johnson, who burned the Bears rookie safety for a 57-yard catch that led to the winning field goal in an overtime loss to the Lions on Oct. 18 at Ford Field. “They beat us in overtime with a big-time catch. And that’s how I lost my [starting] spot. So I’m kind of anxious to play that game.”
It won’t exactly be an anticipated marquee matchup in the NFL when the Bears play the Lions in the season finale at Soldier Field on Sunday — the undrafted rookie from Division II University of Findlay vs. Johnson, a former No. 2 overall pick from Georgia Tech and a five-time Pro Bowler. But Harold Jones-Quartey earned the right to think big with a difference-making performance in the Bears’ 26-21 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium.
Jones-Quartey, starting for the first time since losing his job as Antrel Rolle’s replacement following the first Lions game, made arguably the biggest play of the game. With the Buccaneers leading 14-13 and driving for a second consecutive touchdown to start the second half, Jones-Quartey intercepted a Jameis Winston pass at the goal line — outfighting running back Charles Sims for the ball — and returned it 23 yards to thwart the Buccaneers momentum.
The interception was one of three turnovers for the Bears’ defense and it was an obvious theme that undrafted free agents had a hand in every bit of each of them. Christian Jones, an undrafted — but heralded — second-year linebacker from Florida State set up Jones-Quartey’s interception with pressure off a blitz that forced Winston into a pass he should not have thrown. Linebacker John Timu, an undrafted rookie from Washington, recovered two fumbles by Buccaneers running back Doug Martin. Jonathan Anderson, an undrafted rookie from TCU, forced one of them. Jones-Quarter forced the other.
With the Bears (6-9) playing for next season, it was a positive sign that so many unsung players could make an impact. And Bryce Callahan, the undrafted rookie cornerback from Rice who is arguably has been the best of them all, isn’t even playing — out with a quad injury.
“We got some special young talent on this team” linebacker Pernell McPhee said.
It remains to be seen how much staying power Sunday’s heroes will have. Write their names down and see where they are a year from now. It’ll take a few more performances like Sunday’s victory to keep them off the roster bubble next August.
But with Vic Fangio around, they provide more hope than most. Anderson and the energetic Timu in particular have a knack for being around the ball. It paid off for Timu against the Buccaneers. He claimed he was at the right place at the right time. But it can’t be just coincidence that he often is.
“That’s always the emphasis from Day 1 at camp — run to the ball because you never know what happens,” said Timu, who in his second NFL start was in charge of relaying defensive signals to the huddle. “In this case, we had a couple of ball on the ground and I happened to be at the right place at the right time, grabbing the ball and celebrating with my teammates.”
Jones-Quartey is on a mission to represent Division II players and prove they can play in the NFL. “That’s my mindset every game,” he said. “I feel disrespected. I feel people don’t give us D-II guys a shot because of where we come from.
That drives me.”
Motivation comes easily for the 5-11, 215-pound Jones-Quartey. He was benched following the first Lions game — though more people were wondering why the Bears would put an undrafted rookie safety one-on-one against Calvin Johnson rather than why Jones-Quartey couldn’t make the play. But he was ready for his second chance.
“I just put my head down and kept grinding,” he said. “I was a little upset when I was benched. Calvin Johnson made a great play on me. I lost my spot. I was determined that the next time I get the opportunity, I’m going to do everything I can to earn the coaches trust.”
And Jones-Quartey epitomized the Fangio knack for putting players in the right position to succeed.
“Coaches pointed out that play on film. I saw it all week. I knew what was coming,” he said of the interception. “We run it in practice. I picked it off a couple of times in practice. We kind of have our anticipation of what they’re going to do. When the running back [Sims] motioned in, I kind of had a feeling what he was going to do. And he did it.”