Eddie Jackson barely flinched as he crossed the goal line, interested only in matters of uncertainty. The touchdown was certain. Not because he was standing in the endzone with the ball. It was certain because he, Eddie Jackson, is a master of timing and instinct. His explanation of his interception and subsequent touchdown was simple enough: film study, coaching, reading the play design and following the quarterback’s eyes. The front seven had a good push. His teammates made their blocks. He went in for six. Simple.
No, what interested him was leading his teammates. He shot one hand into the air in a celebratory point for less than half a second before weaving to the back of the endzone and turning to face his fellow defenders. He gestured for them to form a half circle around him. He tapped an invisible baton and began conducting an invisible orchestra. The music lasted only a few beats before Jackson, the D’s conductor, signalled fin and took his bow.
The curtain isn’t dropping any time soon on this Bears season. We are 7-3 and alone atop the NFC North. We are playing the best football this franchise has seen after 10 games since arguably 2010. We have inspired so much confidence in fans that I for one feel no compunction about typing this jinx-heavy paragraph, even with Money Mitch landing on the injured list Monday with a pained right shoulder.
Our defense is top 5 in both points and yards for the first time since 2012 and we are number one in the league in turnover ratio for the first time since ... you guessed it ... 1985.
This D has several standouts. Khalil Mack is our MVP. Akiem Hicks is our unsung hero, though perhaps he’s transitioned all the way to sung, and is arguably our second best player overall behind Mack. Danny Trevathan is a certified leader and has been a stud all year.
The breakout star, though? The guy who has taken a huge step forward in production and promise and changed the way we think about him? That mantle belongs to Fast Eddie, the best Bears safety since Mike Brown.
Okay fine, that’s not saying much. After playing every game of his first four seasons, Brown was struck by the injury bug as hard and cruel as any man before or since, ending his season on injured reserve in 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008, and missing the final four games of the 2005 regular season along with the final three quarters of our lone playoff game.
Brown’s departure from the Bears after 2008 kicked off a notorious revolving door at safety, starting with Al Afalava in 2009 and continuing with extended stretches for Major Wright and Chris Conte, a 16-game showing for Ryan Mundy, and now 50 starts for Adrian Amos, the most of any Bears safety in the past decade.
While Amos has played above expectations, his safety-mate Jackson has become a star. The signs were there last year as a rookie, particularly in his brilliant twofer against the Panthers.
But last year included dry spells for #39. This year, he’s produced star plays nearly every week.
In 2017, Jackson had two interceptions, one forced fumble, three recovered fumbles and two defensive touchdowns, but those came in only three of his 16 games.
In 2018, he has three interceptions, two forced fumbles, one recovered fumble and two defensive touchdowns, and he’s spread them out over five of his 10 games.
He also bagged his first career sack this year, has six passes defended (tied with last year) and had a pick-6 called back on an offsides penalty against Mack.
His numbers grow from his sense of the moment. On the pick-6 against the Vikings, he began charging the spot of the throw before Kirk Cousins cocked his arm. The ball floated beyond the receiver, and Jackson made a handsy grab fit for his offensive brethren.
Once he had the ball, he calmly directed Roquan Smith to make a block and followed the wave like Hester. Only four seconds elapsed between squeezing the interception at the 27 and starting to conduct his teammates in their invisible orchestra (later called a ‘choir’).
This was Jackson’s fourth career touchdown. Peanut Tillman holds the franchise record with nine career defensive touchdowns. Mike Brown is the last Bears safety to reach the Pro Bowl. Jackson is angling for both of those marks. The Conductor — Fast Eddie — is cementing himself as a “sure thing” on this Bears defense, joining Mack, Hicks and Trevathan as guys whose production Bears fans can trust as a given week in and week out.
We’re like Jackson, in that sense. We are standing in the endzone without a hint of surprise. We are thrilled yet calm, rapturous yet assured. We have one responsibility: enjoy the music.
Jack M Silverstein is Windy City Gridiron’s Bears historian, and author of “How The GOAT Was Built: 6 Life Lessons From the 1996 Chicago Bulls.” He is the proprietor of Chicago sports history Instagram “A Shot on Ehlo.” Say hey at @readjack.