CHICAGO – Cornerback Tim Jennings exemplified what the Bears’ defense is all about.
Jennings shadowed Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith, a 12th-year pro with a habit of gouging the Bears and perhaps Jennings’ toughest assignment this season. Smith was at it again Sunday at Soldier Field with seven catches for 118 yards, but Jennings kept battling.
“The offense didn’t play well, the defense didn’t play well, the special teams didn’t have any big plays,” Jennings said. “But, we just had to keep fighting. It’s a 60-minute fight.”
Finally, Jennings got his opportunity. Smith slipped coming out of a cut, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton threw high and right into Jennings’ hands at the Panthers’ 25-yard line. Jennings raced into the end zone for a touchdown that put the Bears, listless to that point, ahead with 6:44 remaining.
Although Carolina added another field goal, the Bears came back to set up Robbie Gould for a 41-yard kick that won the game, 23-22, as time expired. One of the NFL’s best defenses again showed that, even on its worst days, it can make a difference.
“Once we could see we were struggling a little bit, the captains rallied around and got the troops ready and fired up,” Jennings said. “We felt like if we were able to get our hands on the ball, we had to score. We had the opportunity, and we capitalized on it.”
The Bears (6-1) lead the NFL with 23 takeaways, one more than the New York Giants. Jennings’ interception was his sixth and the Bears have a team-record six interceptions returned for touchdowns. That is three short of the NFL mark.
Carolina’s 22 points and 416 total yards were the second-most allowed by the Bears, but the defense, in the end, still bailed out the inconsistent offense.
“Just keep pushing through, keep playing,” cornerback Charles Tillman said. “You never know what happens, that’s why you keep playing. We learned a lot about our team today. Tough situation, just battling through, showing perseverance. Just adversity, battling through that.”
The defense’s blueprint most of the season has been to dominate teams early, take the ball away and score, then keep applying the pressure. The Bears felt they learned a lot about just who they are.
“We feel like we’re a pretty good football team,” linebacker Brian Urlacher said. “We weren’t at our best the whole time. Give [the Panthers] credit, they made us not at our best, they made some plays there. It was the most stressful game we’ve been in besides the loss [23-10 at Green Bay], but we made plays to win in the fourth quarter. The offense came through with a 2-minute drive. We didn’t play good for 3 1/2 quarters and still found a way to win.”