(Eds: Updates with quotes, details. With AP Photos.)By ANDREW SELIGMANAP Sports Writer
How’s this for an oddity? Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs have more touchdown catches than Calvin Johnson and as many as Larry Fitzgerald and Reggie Wayne.
Well, sort of.
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Tillman and Briggs actually have two interception returns for touchdowns, and the Chicago Bears’ defense has been racking up points at a rate that would make any high-powered offense envious.
”I just know that we need to keep it going. Guys realize … taking the ball away is a part of a good defensive game for us,” coach Lovie Smith said Monday. ”We can’t wait for them to turn the ball over. We have to go and get it. I think the last couple weeks or so, I think defensively we have scored about as many as the defense has given up. I think it’s just a mindset. We have guys that have been around here a long time.”
Takeaways have been a hallmark for the Bears (4-1) and a major point of emphasis since Smith took over before the 2004 season, and they lead the NFL with 13 interceptions. That’s something Smith will certainly take, although he’d like to see a few more fumble recoveries, too. The Bears have just four this season.
”Interceptions, when a ball’s thrown your way, you’re supposed to catch it,” Smith said. ”But taking the ball away, once we really get good we’ll start yanking the ball out and you’ll see a lot more caused fumbles and fumble recoveries from it.”
When it comes to interceptions, the Bears are doing just fine, though.
The defense has five touchdowns this season – all on interceptions in the past three weeks – and has allowed just five TDs by opposing offenses. Tillman and Briggs made history in Sunday’s 41-3 blowout at Jacksonville, becoming the first teammates to each return interceptions for TDs in consecutive weeks.
Throw in Major Wright’s 45-yard interception return for a score against Sam Bradford in a win over St. Louis last month and the Bears have run back picks in three straight games for the first time in franchise history.
”We play hard and we try to force the issue and when you play the game the right way good things happen to you,” defensive end Julius Peppers said.
Good things certainly have been happening for a defense that has allowed just two touchdowns during this three-game win streak, and the Jacksonville game was just the latest example. The offense got going in the second half, and the defense did its part as Chicago reeled off 38 unanswered points on the way to its third straight win.
That gave the Bears reason to smile heading into their bye week.
”We sit pretty good right now,” Tillman said. ”We’ll enjoy the win and hit the reset button. We’ll get ready for Detroit after the bye week.”
After returning two of Tony Romo’s five interceptions to the end zone, Tillman and Briggs were at it again, helping the Bears shake off a sluggish first half to come away with a lopsided victory.
Tillman gave them a cushion in the third quarter when he picked off an underthrown pass by Blaine Gabbert and ran it back 36 yards to make it 13-3, getting some good blocks along the way. And Briggs came through with the game out of hand in the fourth on a ball that was deflected, returning it 36 yards.
”I’ve never seen anything like it, two straight weeks the same two guys with pick sixes,” Brian Urlacher said. ”It’s fun to be part of it and watch these guys do it.”
They’ve been doing it for a long time, actually, carving marks in the Bears’ record book.
Tillman became the franchise leader with his eighth career defensive touchdown on Sunday, moving ahead of Mike Brown, and Briggs isn’t far behind. The seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker now has six defensive TDs in his career – five on interceptions.
The accomplishments are hard to ignore, even if Tillman has flown a bit under the radar. He didn’t make the Pro Bowl until last season, his ninth.
”But just living in the now and what’s happened lately, he went to the Pro Bowl last year,” Smith said. ”We don’t try to go back in the past too much, just talking about the future, he’s being recognized for his play right now, which he should. We’re OK with that.”
NOTES: Smith said the Bears are ”continuing to evaluate” WR Alshon Jeffery’s injured right hand. He was injured on a touchdown catch on the first play of the third quarter. … Smith also said WR Earl Bennett (hand) and FB Evan Rodriguez (knee) should be ”good to go” against Detroit on Oct. 22.
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