Like every other player on the Bears’ defense, safety Eddie Jackson was feeling it after a standout performance in a 16-13 victory over the struggling Panthers on Thursday night at Soldier Field.
The Bears held the Panthers to 213 yards and 3.7 yards per play — including just 43 rushing yards in 16 carries. They sacked rookie quarterback Bryce Young three times — pretty good for them — and held the Panthers to 3-for-15 on third-down conversions (20%).
“We’ve got some momentum and it’s time to go on a run,” Jackson said. “Try to get ‘Maine [linebacker Tremaine Edmunds] back, let the defense go out there, everybody play, give us a chance … [with] everybody healthy on that field, especially on the defensive side of the ball. That’s what we want. Let’s see what the potential is then.”
The swagger that Jackson, safety Jaquan Brisker and the rest of the defense played with in the first 10 days of training camp — when players were chirping at the offense (“y’all soft”) and challenging Justin Fields & Co. to play at their level of aggression — dissipated quickly as injuries and absences mounted, and reality set in.
But players like Jackson and Brisker haven’t forgotten that feeling. And every time the Bears play well on defense — no matter how bad the opponent — they look forward to recapturing that edgy feeling of training camp.
“Definitely. Exactly. That’s exactly what you miss,” Jackson said. “Everybody’s been hurt. It’s time to get everybody back and just get that feeling [again]. That’s the main focus for us.”
After a mini-bye since the Thursday night game, the Bears’ defense could be as strong as it has been this season, from a manpower standpoint. Jackson and cornerbacks Kyler Gordon and Jaylon Johnson are back after missing games with injuries. Defensive end Yannick Ngakoue, who joined the team on. Aug. 8 after signing a free-agent contract, is three months into his acclimation to Matt Eberflus’ defense. And defensive end Montez Sweat will get his first full week of practice since being acquired on Oct. 31 in a trade with the Commanders.
The only missing piece is Edmunds, who has sat the last two games with a knee injury. He could return against the Lions on Sunday at Ford Field.
If Edmunds returns, the Bears’ defense would be as whole as it’s going to be. And, with all due respect to the “next man up” philosophy, Jackson is looking forward to it having the starting defense together again.
“You miss it a lot. And it’s a huge factor,” Jackson said. “It’s like a different level of energy. A different level of playmaking. ‘Maine’s one of our leaders on defense as well. To have him back, to have ‘Brisk [Brisker] back — [getting] all the guys back, the sky’s the limit for us. Everyone’s still meshing together, so we’re just trying to get everybody back, so we can just get this thing rolling.”
With Sweat making a bigger impact in his second game, with eight pressures — albeit against a struggling Panthers’ offensive line — the Bears’ defense is starting to think big again.
“Our chemistry’s growing,” Brisker said. “We want to get better every day. We want to put the team on our backs and do everything we can to give the offense the ball in great position.”
After manhandling the 1-8 Panthers, a bigger test lies ahead against the Lions, who are ranked second in the NFL in yards, ninth in points and are sixth in rushing yards. Still, they feel this is the start of something.
“A hundred percent,” said Gordon, who has been on the upswing since returning in Week 6 after missing four games with a broken hand. He had two tackles for loss and a pass break-up against the Panthers.
“That’s exactly what we were saying right after [the Carolina game] — ‘Let’s keep it rolling.’ “