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Saturday, January 22, 2022

From ‘Oh No’ to ‘Oh, My God, This Is Beautiful’: How Jackiem Grant’s Record 97-Yard Punt-Return Touchdown Turned Out for the Chicago Bears

Jackiem Grant estimated that he watched video of his 97-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Green Bay Packers “maybe a million times” in the past week. The replays were accompanied by a flood of messages from family and friends, many with the same theme.

Twenty seven yards! But also… 97 yards?

“He definitely has some guts,” Chicago Bears tight end Cole Kemet said last week.

Or as Grant’s friends put it: “Man, Jakim, you have to be crazy to have the guts or the confidence and catch it third and do what you did.”

Grant acknowledged that there was some madness involved, but pregame motivation played a part as well. A quick, smart decision was the key to the return, as was a promise from a longtime partner. Some big blocks from the Bears special team led the way. And then, of course, the momentum kicked in.

Twenty-two seconds later, Grant had the longest punt-return touchdown in Bears history.

Grant, his teammates and special teams coordinator Chris Tabor reported this week that “Oh, no!” How did this all come about? To “Whoa!” Here’s what he had to say, with a soundtrack from Bears play-by-play announcer Jeff Jonick.

‘Bjorkez sends it up in the air.’

Days before Corey Bjorkez’s punt at Lambeau Field departed the 50-yard line on December 12, Grant himself worked out what he would do in the return game.

A week earlier against the Arizona Cardinals, Grant misjudged a punt that the Bears had dropped at the 2-yard line, and he was “sick” about putting the offense in that position. Then, as he was preparing by watching the game movie from the previous Bear-Packers game, Grant determined he didn’t have as many return yards as he should have.

“(Tabor) is like, ‘It’s OK.’ And I’m like, ‘Nav, coach, I’m ticked. This is the most I’ve been mad at in a long time because I’ve dropped too many yards on kickoff returns and punt returns,'” Grant said. Was trying to tell me to calm down, and I was like, ‘I’ll calm down once I get into the game.

On top of that inspiration, the Bears saw an opportunity against a struggling Packers special team group.

“Because of the Packers’ personnel – their punt team had a larger body than usual – we felt we had an advantage from a pace standpoint,” said Bears defensive back Maraki Christian. “Especially when JG is one of the fastest players in the league.”

‘At the far end of the field, Jakim retrieves Grant (3).’

Bears safety Deion Bush was executing a double team against Equinimus St. Brown near the left sideline to make sure Grant had room to catch the football, so Bush didn’t realize Grant had made it to the 3rd. -Caught on the yard line until later in the game. , But he was not surprised.

“I know Jakim is a risk taker,” Bush said. “And, shoot, I’d be a lot faster if I was as quick and fast as him. I wasn’t surprised at all.”

The Bears were traded for Grant in October because of his return skills with the Miami Dolphins, which included three punt-returns and two kickoff-return touchdowns.

Tabor said Grant’s talent allows him to take chances against the Packers.

“Maybe to normal football fans, they’ll say, ‘Why would you catch the ball inside the 5-yard line?’ Because that’s what everybody is taught,” Tabor said. “But in the world of special teams, if you have a special, dynamic returner, you can push it a little bit.

“When he caught the ball, the players were still 15 to 16 yards away from him. So if the players are going too far from that, we want to take a shot at the target. ,

‘supports him. He is in big trouble at 5. Reverse course.’

Grant and Damien Williams were teammates with the Dolphins, and when they reunited with the Bears on the punt-return unit, Williams had a message for Grant.

“De-Vill, he told me, just follow him and he was going to lead me to the Promised Land,” Grant said.

When Grant initially caught the football 7 yards behind the 10-yard marker near the left bank, he saw green grass to his right and took six steps that way. Then as he looked at the angle at which many Packers players were approaching him, he said to himself, “Oh, no, I can’t run like that.”

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“So when I stopped suddenly and I saw (Williams) through a crack through the Packers, I was like, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going back to the left,'” Grant said. “He’s someone I can ultimately rely on and I know is going to get the job done, and he’s going to do whatever I need to do to be successful.”

Christian was running the punter and fell to the ground. But when he woke up and saw Grant turning over, his eyes widened.

“You never know,” said Christian. “It’s like playing the longest in football. So you just wait, see how it goes. When I’m watching him go right, I’m like, ‘Okay, this one There could be a bad return. But as soon as I saw him put his foot down and go the other way, I already knew. I saw him.”

Gets blockers at ’10. Up to 15, 20, 25, 30. facing down!’

Before Grant ran to the left along the 5-yard line and then sideways the corner, Bush said he “just felt it.”

“I noticed he was bouncing around a little bit, and I’m like, ‘You know, let me find some work because he might be back in the corner,'” Bush said. “That’s what we’re taught, finding work.”

Bush leapt past Packers linebacker Chris Barnes at age 18, as Grant was extended by him. With Christian just ahead of him, Williams overtook Bjorkez on 35, and Christian threw himself to trail Patrick Taylor on 45.

“It’s like that desperate thought: ‘Okay, that’s it. It’s on me. I make it up, it’s over,'” Christian said.

Grant ran forward, and Christian followed with his hands in the air.

“Once I was around him, I was like, ‘Oh my god, this is beautiful,'” Grant said. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel. Actually, there’s light all along the way.”

‘And off he goes! 30, 20, 15, 10. Final field! Touchdown, Bear! Very good!’

According to Next Gen Stats, Grant, who ran track in high school in Texas, reached a top speed of 21.33 mph on the way to the end zone, but said he wasn’t as fast as he could run because he did. . I don’t want his feet to die later in the game.

“The only thing I’m thinking of is just running at a good pace, fast enough to pass them,” Grant said. “A lot of people were like, ‘Were you gasping it? You don’t feel like you’re gasping it.’ I was just running at a comfortable pace where no one could catch me.”

It was fast enough to run untouched in the end zone, where he said he began to dance the touchdown but then dropped it for celebration with teammates running behind him.

“I usually have[a celebration planned]during the week and I prepare for it, and as soon as I get to the last zone, the emotions run high and then the next thing you know, it It’s like, ‘What should I have done again?'” Grant said.

The celebration continued last week as Grant was named NFC Special Team Player of the Week. Scores in the second quarter gave the Bears a 45-30 loss to give them a 24-14 lead.

The record touchdown would pass the football to his mother, Sylvia, who has all of his milestone balls. Grant would hold off on the knowledge that he set a return record for Devin Hester’s former team. Grant said he grew up admiring Hester and uses his example as inspiration.

Grant’s companions are ready to help him.

“We think every week that JG can do this,” Christian said. “All the players are aware of JG’s impact on the field and what he’s already done in the NFL in Miami. So we know we just have to give him a chance, and anyone can go home.”

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