Bears’ mantra on defense: End zone, here we come!
BY SEAN JENSEN firstname.lastname@example.org October 8, 2012 7:46PM
Chicago Bears outside linebacker Lance Briggs (55) and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher (54) celebrate after Briggs sacked Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert during the second half of an NFL football game in Jacksonville, Fla., Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012. The Bears won 41-3.(AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack)
Updated: November 10, 2012 6:22AM
The monotony of a regular-season practice can test the focus of veteran defenders.
But one of the indisputable influences coach Lovie Smith has had at Halas Hall is instilling a certain mind-set among his defensive players whenever they get the ball in their hands.
“You got to get in there. We got to have it,” linebacker Lance Briggs said of what he was thinking when he picked off a pass by Blaine Gabbert on Sunday in Jacksonville. “That’s just a win mentality.
“Got to get that ball in the end zone.”
It seems fitting that Briggs and cornerback Charles Tillman made NFL history, becoming the first teammates to score defensive touchdowns in consecutive games. Since 2004, when Smith took over, the Bears have scored a whopping 23 interception-return touchdowns, trailing only the Baltimore Ravens and Green Bay Packers (25 apiece).
“I’m proud of Peanut,” Briggs said, referring to Tillman by his nickname, “and I’m proud of the guys helping us get in the end zone.
“It was a lot of fun.”
That final word was the common thread among Bears defenders.
With his pick-6 in the third quarter against the Jaguars, Tillman owns the team record for most defensive touchdowns with eight.
He doesn’t spend much thought on such things.
“When I retire, and it’s all said and done,” Tillman said, “I can look back and say, ‘Wow. Those are some pretty cool stats.’ Right now, I’m just having fun.”
That was evident each time Briggs got his hands on the ball. In Dallas, Briggs split two Cowboys to run into space en route to his 74-yard touchdown return. Then, in Jacksonville, Briggs distanced himself from Jaguar players, including a receiver.
“I didn’t see him catch it but I looked up and I was like, ‘Man, he’s rolling,’ ” middle linebacker Brian Urlacher said.
“I didn’t see it, but it looked good from behind.”
Added defensive tackle Henry Melton, “When he gets the ball, he’s just gone.”
Melton, a former running back at Texas, noted that Briggs also played that position back in the day. So while some linebackers and defensive linemen look to lateral the ball to a defensive back, Melton said Briggs isn’t inclined to give up the rock.
“He takes the ball and is looking straight at the end zone,” Melton said. “I got to give it to him.”
Tillman and Briggs applauded their defensive teammates for paving their way to the end zone, something they work on.
“Whenever we get a turnover in practice, our mind-set is, ‘We got to score.’ When someone gets the ball, everyone turns and sprints and gets on someone and take them out,” safety Chris Conte said.
“It’s a good opportunity to get after someone who has been getting after you the whole game.
“Push them around a little bit.”
Although defensive touchdowns are rare, Smith said his players embrace that mind-set, anyway.
“Why do we play every play? What’s the object or the goal every play? It’s to score, period,” Smith said. “Simple as that. Yanking the ball and you getting into the end zone or you doing something that helps your offensive guys, defensive guys or special teams guys getting in the end zone, it’s just a base part of what you need to do.”
And while some coaches stress takeaways late in games, when they’re desperate, Smith said he always emphasizes them.
“Coaches start really talking about ‘You’ve got to get the ball back.’ Let’s start the game like that,” he said. “You don’t have to wait till the end to get those things.”