Eddie Jackson took what he was given, started sprinting, and never looked back.
The Chicago safety scooped up a bobbled option pitch from Carolina quarterback Cam Newton to rookie receiver Curtis Samuel that squirted toward the sideline, and returned it 75 yards for a touchdown on the Panthers’ first offensive series of the game.
Then Jackson did it again to open the second quarter. A pass intended for receiver Kelvin Benjamin was tipped by Prince Amukamara, and Jackson snagged it out of the air for a 76-yard touchdown return.
The explosive plays put Chicago up early and set the tone as the Panthers struggled to gut out a comeback, falling to the Bears 17-3 on a dreary, windy Sunday afternoon.
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The last time Carolina allowed two defensive touchdowns in a game was in a 37-13 loss to Baltimore in 2010.
And other than those two plays, Chicago only managed to score three points.
Three who mattered
Eddie Jackson: Jackson’s two returns, for a combined 151 yards and two touchdowns, were the difference,. The Bears entered the game No. 31 in the NFL in turnover differential. Jackson became the first player in NFL history to have two defensive touchdown returns of 75 yards or more in a game.
Bears defensive line: Chicago brought the pressure early against Newton, sacking him five times (once apiece on the first three drives of the game as the Panthers offense tried to rally from a deficit) and hurrying him 11 times.
Tarik Cohen: Cohen made Chicago’s only explosive offensive play of the day on a 70-yard catch-and-run. Cohen shook corner Kevon Seymour on the play, which set up a keeper touchdown attempt by quarterback Mitch Trubisky on third down. Trubisky, who was pursued heavily and hit by fellow North Carolina alumnus Julius Peppers, was ruled down at the half-yard line and the Bears settled for a field goal to lead 17-3 with 1:10 to play in the first half.
▪ In the second half, Carolina forced five consecutive three-and-outs against Chicago’s offense.
▪ For the third week in a row, Carolina’s rushing attack struggled to find its rhythm behind its running backs. Jonathan Stewart carried the ball 14 times for 48 yards, and Christian McCaffrey had seven carries for 10 yards.
▪ The Bears fared even worse on the ground, with 73 rushing yards on 23 carries.
▪ Where Carolina’s running backs saw little success rushing in the first half, Newton was effective when his legs were needed. He converted two third downs, one on a 14-yard keeper up the middle and another on a 6-yard scramble around the right edge, aided by a box-out of a defender by Christian McCaffrey. The play ultimately set up a 36-yard field goal.
▪ Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short got a finger on a long field goal attempt that would have put the Bears up 10-0 to open the second quarter. Short also sacked Trubisky on third down in the fourth quarter to force Chicago to punt from its own end zone.
▪ After the first turnover, the Panthers tried to utilize both Stewart and McCaffrey as short options for Newton. Stewart tried to get open on for a screen, but the right side of the line collapsed, he was swallowed up and Newton was sacked. A similar situation happened on the next snap as McCaffrey tried to wiggle up the seam but could not find room through a collapsed gap into the open field. Newton had Devin Funchess as an outside option on that play, but Funchess made the catch out of bounds and Carolina had to punt.
▪ Corner Captain Munnerlyn had his second sack of the year on Trubisky to close the first quarter and force a 52-yard field goal attempt.
▪ By the middle of the fourth quarter, Newton led all Panthers rushers with 50 yards on nine carries.
▪ A gorgeous, pirouetting 37-yard catch by Kelvin Benjamin with seconds left on the clock in the first half could have set Carolina up for a touchdown. However, the clock ran out as the offense sprinted down the field and tried to get lined up to down the ball.
▪ A Bears punt from their own end zone in the fourth quarter picked up an extra 20 yards on a bounce (traveling 66 total yards) when McCaffrey did not field it.
▪ Linebacker Danny Travathan picked off Newton with 7:07 left in the fourth quarter, but Carolina forced its fifth consecutive three-and-out on the following Bears drive.
▪ Entering Sunday’s game, Trubisky had been getting eased slowly into Chicago’s offense. He had thrown just 41 passes in his two previous starts, and completed 20. The analytics blog “The Football Outsiders” also found that Trubisky had thrown to his left past the line of scrimmage just five times, completing two passes.
On Sunday, Trubisky threw seven passes and completed four for 107 yards (with the 70-yard catch-and-run to Cohen his longest).
▪ Carolina was without two of its top defensive players, linebacker Luke Kuechly (concussion protocol) and safety Kurt Coleman (knee). The team did get back starting center Ryan Kalil, who had been dealing with neck issues for the last few weeks. Kalil had to leave the game in the first half after re-aggravating his neck.
▪ Tight end Greg Olsen, who remains on IR after breaking his foot and having surgery to repair it last month, made the trip to Chicago with the team. The Bears drafted Olsen in the first round of the 2007 NFL draft.
▪ Star guard Trai Turner hurt his left knee in the second half and did not return.