Jaylon Johnson jumped in front of Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Davante Adams to grab the interception, raced 39 yards for a touchdown and then made a beeline for the FOX broadcast camera.
As Johnson’s teammates gathered around to celebrate his second career interception — and his first of two picks Sunday — Johnson smirked at the camera and swiped one hand up over the other, raining imaginary money over the Soldier Field end zone.
Was he sending a message with that celebration in the Bears’ joy-filled 30-12 victory over the Raiders, you ask?
“You damn right,” Johnson said. “100%.”
Johnson’s two interceptions — one off veteran quarterback Brian Hoyer and one off rookie Aidan O’Connell — were part of a banner day for the Bears defense against a Raiders team missing starter Jimmy Garoppolo. Tremaine Edmunds also intercepted Hoyer. The Bears let the Raiders in the end zone just once, held them to 39 yards rushing and allowed only 2 of 9 third-down conversions as they halted a 10-game home losing streak.
Johnson’s picks came in the fourth quarter, the first with the Bears already holding a 24-6 lead, but they were notable for a number of reasons.
Johnson, a 2020 Bears second-round draft pick, is in the final year of his rookie contract and will be looking to sign a new deal in the months ahead — either with the Bears or another NFL team. Johnson said Sunday he has “been wanting to get to the table” to work out such a contract, thus the money celebration.
“I know who I am, and I know I can play this game at a high level,” Johnson said. “And I feel like I deserve to be paid like that. I’m taking that attitude for any team, for any and everybody in the NFL. So I mean if it’s with the Bears, then I’ll do that.”
Entering Sunday, Johnson had started 43 games in his Bears career and had 32 passes defended. He prides himself on being game to lock down the best receivers in the league. But prior to Sunday he had just one interception — on Sept. 19, 2021, against Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow. Twenty-eight games followed without a pick.
Johnson has spoken this season about wanting to add to that total. But he stopped short of saying the streak without one weighed on him because he also prides himself on being reliable.
“It’s only so much you can do when you don’t get too many opportunities,” he said. “And you don’t want to force it and get too happy and start jumping routes and you get beat over the top. I’m definitely a sound player and want to do what I need to do to be in position to make plays on the ball. And if they give me an opportunity to catch the ball, I’m going to do it every time.”
That his first interception Sunday came while defending Adams was fitting given that Johnson has been asked multiple times about wanting to defend the former Green Bay Packers All-Pro receiver.
Johnson said he could see Hoyer eyeing Adams and knew the football was coming his way, so he broke before Adams did. After Johnson grabbed the ball, Kyler Gordon stepped in front of Adams to block, and Johnson knew he was getting to the end zone. The pick-six came one drive after Johnson was called for a 46-yard pass interference penalty against Tre Tucker that he said was a good call and “not acceptable” on his part.
Later in the fourth quarter, Johnson jumped in front of O’Connell’s pass to Jakobi Meyers for the other pick. Afterward, Johnson kneeled on the sideline because “God has done so much for me, and I was just taking the time to give him the glory.”
“It meant the world to him,” cornerback Tyrique Stevenson said. “After the second pick, I walked up to him and gave him a hug. You could feel the emotion. It’s something he’s been wanting, something we’ve been praying about, something we’ve talking about. Just for him to go out there and be a leader of the defense and take away two, it just added to the confidence of this defense.”
The Bears defensive effort obviously was much more than just Johnson. Stevenson, often defending Adams, had three passes defended. Defensive lineman Justin Jones had a sack. Edmunds grabbed an interception of Hoyer in the second quarter when it bounced off the hand of running back Josh Jacobs, and the takeaway led to the Bears’ second touchdown six plays later.
Edmunds and fellow linebacker T.J. Edwards, both new to the Bears this year, talked about the confidence building in the defense as they grow more comfortable with one another. And they talked about the good vibe that develops as they make more game-changing plays.
“We have a lot of playmakers out there that can make those big-time plays,” said Edmunds, who has two takeaways in two weeks. “Defense in general strives off that, just energy. What one person do, we all feel.”
In back-to-back home games, the Bears have held the Minnesota Vikings and Raiders offenses to just 12 points. The Vikings were without star wide receiver Justin Jefferson and the Raiders were without Garoppolo.
But that doesn’t diminish the confidence growing in the unit. Or the satisfaction Johnson was sure he would feel when he went home Sunday night.
“I get to go home and watch TV with a smile on my face and not want to turn the TV on,” Johnson said. “Honestly, just going out here and getting the dub for the home crowd, for all of the city, I know it’s been a long time coming. It’s really just about giving them what they want. They come out and show up each and every game and give us energy, and it’s only right to give them a W.”