By Jeff Joniak-
Charles Tillman has no plans to retire anytime soon. Even though the first nine games of the season were challenging physically because of a sore knee and now a triceps injury, Tillman wants to keep playing.
He hopes it’s with the Bears, but there are no guarantees. He has played his last game of this regular season, available only if the Bears reach the playoffs. However, Tillman is attacking this injury like he does every practice and every game. He is seeking multiple medical opinions to determine the best course of action for the short-term and long-term.
His unique dedication to preparing himself mentally and physically on game day should be noted by every young player who walks into Halas Hall. He constantly pushes himself by challenging himself. He is arguably the premier cornerback in the NFL defending size. It stared his rookie season with Randy Moss and continues 11 seasons later dealing with Calvin Johnson.
The injury occurred early in the fourth quarter, so basically Tillman defended Johnson with one arm. He has no interest in moving to safety in the future. He still feels he can run, just not as fast as he did early in his career, and he feels his knowledge and experience keep him sharp on Sundays. He is the best cornerback in Bears history in my opinion. He will be missed on a defense wrought with injury.
In 150 starts, Tillman is third in franchise history with 36 interceptions, the career leader in interception return yards, interception return touchdowns (8), and defensive touchdowns (9). His 43 forced fumbles since his rookie season ranks tops in the NFL and he is the only player period to force 40 fumbles and intercept 30 passes.
This is why I believe the Bears will challenge for a playoff spot in the NFC: Points. All ten of the top ten teams in offensive points scored are .500 or better. The Bears are sixth at 25.0 ppg.
Even without Jay Cutler under center against the Ravens and maybe longer, the offense is equipped to continue putting points on the board. It will be up to the defense to cobble enough big plays and big stops late in games to give the offense a chance to get it done.
Honestly, the final seven games of the regular season could all wind up being nail nibblers, going right down to the wire. With a record number of games entering the fourth quarter with basically a touchdown difference, the teams who can win the close games will be the teams that enter the postseason.
The average scoring NFL game this season is better than 46 points combined. That is pacing towards and NFL record. One more 400-yard passing performance and it matches the most ever (18) set in 2011. Quarterbacks are on pace to set NFL records for combined passer rating, completion percentage, and passing yards per game.
After starting the season on fire taking the ball away, the pace has slowed for the Bears. It makes sense, given the talent attrition which has subtracted a starter almost weekly.
Now the turnover machine Tillman is out for the rest of the regular season, which complicates the process even more. Still, the Bears’ 20 takeaways ranks tied for fifth in the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals. Those turnovers have turned into 72 points, which is tied for third with Dallas. However,the Bears have had more than one interception only three times in nine games. After four games, the Bears had eight fumble recoveries. In the last five games, the Bears have no fumble recoveries.
4th and Short
I know there is only one ball, and a quartet of playmakers that need it. You are not going to get much better than a group featuring Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey, Matt Forte, and Martellus Bennett.
A fifth option is quietly waiting for more opportunities. Earl Bennett has 13 catches, two touchdowns so far. Both have come on third down: Third and five for 17 yards at Pittsburgh, and third and seven for 10 yards at Detroit. Bennett has been targeted 22 times, and has six first downs. 60 percent of his 166 career receptions have produced first downs and eight of his 10 career touchdowns have come in the red zone. He is a fifth option, but he is a good option.