Bears’ defense, special teams turn in first quarter for the ages
Jay Cutler completed three passes in the first quarter Sunday. And the Bears scored four touchdowns. That statistical anomaly is just the latest evidence proving that no team in the NFL pounces on its opponents’ mistakes like the Bears.
In the first 15 minutes alone of Sunday’s game against Tennessee, Chicago blocked a punt for a touchdown, scored off a pick-6 and forced two Tennessee fumbles. Devin Hester also broke free for a long punt return, which let the Bears’ offense start a possession with 1st-and-goal.
By the time the Titans knew what had hit them, it was 28-2 — yes, the Bears’ offense was so non-essential in the first quarter that Tennessee’s lone points came off a safety. Along the way, Chicago became the first team in NFL history to record a passing TD, rushing TD, interception return for TD and blocked-punt TD in the same quarter in NFL history.
Things did not get much better from there for the Titans, who were on the business end of a 51-20 beatdown.
Chicago entered Sunday having forced 23 turnovers, one off the Giants’ league lead (and New York has one more game under its belt). The Bears also had a franchise-record six interception returns for TDs, a number that rose one when Brian Urlacher picked off a Matt Hasselbeck pass and took it 46 yards to the house.
That play put Chicago ahead 21-2 and came after Corey Wootton’s blocked punt TD and Hester’s long punt return — Matt Forte punched it in from eight yards following the latter.
Not to be lost in all this is the mastery of veteran Bears DB Charles “Peanut” Tillman when it comes to forcing fumbles.
Tillman had caused three fumbles during the Bears’ first seven games, then was responsible for four on Sunday (Chicago recovered three), including both times the Titans put the ball on the deck in the first quarter. Tillman has mastered the art of the punch-out move — putting a fist on the ball while tackling a runner. (Back in January, SI.com talked to Tillman about his approach to forcing fumbles.)
The one Tillman-forced fumble that Tennessee managed to retain possession on occurred when Tillman popped the ball out of Craig Stevens’ hands on a second-quarter Titans drive. Chicago still forced a turnover a few plays later, when Urlacher caused Chris Johnon’s second fumble of the day — and the Titans’ fourth fumble to that point.
The Bears’ offense still has questions along the offensive line, as evidenced by J’Marcus Webb’s penalty in the end zone, which caused a safety. But if the defense can keep playing like this, who cares?