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Bears notebook: Tillman muscles up to Lions’ ‘Megatron’

Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman breaks up a pass intended for Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson in the second half of an NFL football game in Chicago.
Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman breaks up a pass intended for Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson in the second half of an NFL football game in Chicago.

CHICAGO – In front of a sellout crowd and a national television audience, Bears cornerback Charles Tillman wasted little time in making his presence felt Monday at Soldier Field.

Tillman stepped in front of the first pass that was headed to Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson. The ball dropped to the ground and foreshadowed a quiet day for Detroit’s Pro Bowl wide receiver.

It didn’t matter that Tillman was 3 inches shorter and 38 pounds lighter than his 6-foot-5, 236-pound counterpart.

Johnson entered Week 7 averaging more than 100 receiving yards a game, but Tillman held him to zero receptions until more than halfway through the third quarter. Johnson finished with three catches for 34 yards. After Tillman was whistled for pass interference, he responded by breaking up a pass against Johnson in the end zone.

Johnson should have had at least one reception on a play in which he was wide open across the middle, but the ball bounced off of his hands to spoil what would have been a first down.
After quieting Johnson, Tillman will have to prepare for smaller receivers in the next two weeks.

Next week’s Bears’ opponent, the Carolina Panthers, feature Steve Smith (5-foot-9, 185 pounds) as the No. 1 wide receiver. After that comes a road game against the Tennessee Titans, who feature wiry target Nate Washington (6-foot-1, 185 pounds) as the leading receiver.

Climbing the charts: Bears quarterback Jay Cutler surpassed Erik Kramer to move into fourth place in franchise history for passing yards.

Cutler passed for 150 yards against the Lions to give him 10,618 passing yards in 47 games with the Bears. He leapfrogged Kramer, who passed for 10,582 yards in 49 games with the Bears from 1994-98.

At this rate, Cutler is well on his way to becoming the Bears’ all-time leading passer. He trails Sid Luckman (14,686 yards), Jim Harbaugh (11,567 yards) and Jim McMahon (11,203 yards) in the top three.

Welcome back: Zack Bowman made a difference six days after re-signing with the Bears.
As an outside gunner on special teams, Bowman sprinted down the field in the third quarter and recovered a muffed punt at the Lions’ 27-yard-line. The Bears converted the special-teams takeaway into three points several minutes later when Robbie Gould drilled a 21-yard field goal to increase the lead to 13-0.

Bowman, 27, replaced injured teammate Sherrick McManis (hip) on the active roster. The fifth-year cornerback appeared in 46 games during his previous stint with the team from 2008-11.

Bears bits: Detroit’s Matthew Stafford became the third quarterback who was selected No. 1 overall to play against the Bears this season. The Bears have faced Andrew Luck (2012) and Sam Bradford (2010) in addition to Stafford (2009) and face Cam Newton (2011) next week. … The Bears’ healthy scratches included defensive tackle Matt Toeaina, guard Edwin Williams and tight end Brody Eldridge.

Three Bears

Lance Briggs, LB
Briggs continues to play at the highest level. He knocked a pass out of WR Nate Burleson’s hands on a third-and-2 play and later stopped a Lions’ drive by stripping the ball from Mikel Leshoure at the Bears’ 17.

Brandon Marshall, WR
Marshall and quarterback Jay Cutler have become quite a formidable duo. Marshall had six receptions for 81 yards and the Bears’ first touchdown.

Matt Forte, RB
Forte ripped off a 39-yard run to set up the Bears’ first touchdown and finished with 22 carries for 96 yards.

3 things that worked

1. The Bears’ new play – Showing something they had not run before, WR Brandon Marshall went in motion with QB Jay Cutler, then slipped behind a Lions defender for a short toss and a 7-yard touchdown.

2. Third-down offense – The Bears were 6 of 17 on conversions for the game.

3. Covering “Megatron” – CB Charles Tillman had WR Calvin Johnson for most of the game and held him to three catches for 34 yards. Tillman knocked down a pass in the end zone to Johnson, preventing a touchdown.

3 things that didn’t work

1. Field-goal protection – Lions DE Lawrence Jackson broke through to block Robbie Gould’s 47-yard field goal attempt in the first half.

2. Unprolific passing – Detroit’s tough front four had something to do with it, but the Bears did not have huge passing numbers. Although their ability to run the ball helped, too.

3. Punt return production – The NFL’s best return man in history, Devin Hester, has yet to bust a big one this year, and the Lions were prime candidates given their coverage problems.

3 moments that mattered

1. Big drop – On the first series, QB Matthew Stafford had Johnson wide open down the middle and Johnson dropped the ball. Had he caught it, it would have been good for a 40-plus-yard gain.

2. Backed up – The Bears were inside their 1-yard line on a third-and-11 and Cutler hit Marshall on a slant that gained 18 yards. The drive ended with Gould’s 47-yard field goal attempt being blocked, but the play got them out of a huge hole.

3. He’s back – There was some question about Cutler’s status after halftime, but he was one of the last players out of the locker room after having his ribs examined by medical personnel. He drew huge cheers as he jogged to the sideline.

Now what?
Next: The Bears host Carolina (1-5) Sunday at noon.
Record: 5-1.

It means: The Bears are alone in first place in the NFC North Division, one-half game ahead of Minnesota heading into Sunday’s game against Carolina at Soldier Field.

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