CHICAGO — Matt Eberflus wrapped Eddie Jackson in a bear hug on the sidelines. The moment was long in coming for the Chicago Bears safety, who seconds earlier jumped past a pass thrown by San Francisco quarterback Trey Lance on a third-and-five in the fourth quarter and walked away with an interception, its premiere since December 29, 2019.
Since taking over as Bears coach this offseason, Eberflus called it a “clean slate” for Jackson, a veteran of the previous regime who signed a massive contract extension in early 2020.
“It was outstanding,” Eberflus said of Jackson’s game-changing interception. “I couldn’t be more proud of him.”
The Bears’ offense finally enjoyed a turnaround when running back Khalil Herbert’s 3-yard touchdown put the 49ers out for good in an upset 19-10 victory.
Eberflus earned his first NFL victory because his team won on turnover and penalty differentials. The Bears totaled two takeaways — cornerback Jaylon Johnson and safety Jaquan Brisker combined for a forced fumble and a recovery — and just three penalties for 24 yards. Fifteen of those penalty yards came when starter Trenton Gill was flagged for trying to soak up water on the field with a towel.
“We said from the start that we were going to play smart and aggressive football,” said Eberflus. “You can still hit and do things, and play aggressively, and finish plays, and do it the right way. But you do it smart and aggressively.”
Eberflus promotes a HITS principle, which stands for Hustle, Intensity, Takeaways, (Playing) Smart. Sunday’s result may help solidify players’ buy-ins.
“You start to see the results on film, the way we train, the way we scramble, just the mindset of the whole team, how we’ve built our foundation,” Jackson said. “Keep building that identity on defence. We just want to keep flying and getting things done.”
Chicago proved its ability to bounce back from a slow start when Justin Fields and the offense snatched touchdowns on three straight possessions after going scoreless in the first half.
But it was the Bears defense that provided consistency. The Bears didn’t blitz on any of his 34 dropbacks and still got the pressure on him 12 times, limiting the sophomore quarterback to 1 of 7 for minus-2 passing yards on those dropbacks, plus two sacks and three scrambles.
What the Bears learned was that they could set the tone with their defense and everything else would eventually fall into place.
As the offense improved in the second half, Chicago’s defense continued to hum. The Bears reduced the 49ers’ running game (6.4 yards per rush allowed in the first half, 3.2 yards per rush in the second) to stifle an offense known to come at opponents from all angles.
Mainstays of that defense like Jackson and linebacker Roquan Smith with his nine tackles and half-sack led the way, but contributions from rookies like Brisker, defensive end Dominique Robinson (1.5 sacks, 7 tackles , TFL) and cornerback Kyler Gordon (6 tackles, TFL) was critical.
“It puts more confidence in the locker room,” defensive end Robert Quinn said. “Guys with ups and downs and all the ifs.
“Regardless of what the outside says, we can control the message in this dressing room.