Charles Tillman makes sure Calvin Johnson fails his physical exam
By Sean Jensen firstname.lastname@example.org November 13, 2011 10:04PM
Updated: December 15, 2011 10:06AM
Bears cornerback Charles Tillman considers Calvin Johnson the NFL’s top receiver.
So Tillman had a modest goal when the Bears coaching staff challenged him to shadow the 6-5 specimen the entire game.
“I know there are some plays he’s going got get,” Tillman told the Sun-Times. “But I need to make more plays than him.
“I have the utmost respect for Calvin Johnson; he’s the best receiver in the league. He’s a hell of a competitor, and it was two gladiators going at it. But I believe competition brings out the best in you, and it came out of me tonight.”
Heading into the game, Johnson told the Detroit Free Press he had a special touchdown celebration planned. Last year, in the season opener, Johnson had a controversial game-winning touchdown overturned because he didn’t fully control the ball. In a 24-13 victory over the Bears on Oct. 10 at Ford Field, Johnson had five catches for 130 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown that wasn’t against Tillman. But by the time Johnson hauled in his only meaningful catch Sunday — a 40-yarder in the third quarter — the Lions trailed 37-6.
“I really just wanted to be physical with him,” Tillman said. “The equalizer in football is hitting.
“And we all, as a team, did that.”
Physicality was what was missing in the October game, Tillman said, and he and his defensive teammates resolved to ensure history didn’t repeat itself Sunday at Soldier Field.
Instead, the Bears rewound even further back.
“The last time we played them on Monday night, they outhit us,” Tillman said, “and the one thing we needed to change is to be more physical. We played Monsters of the Midway defense. We got back to our roots — grass roots.”
Tillman had five tackles, defended three passes and picked off one pass that he returned 44 yards for a touchdown.
“We know what type of player Peanut is,” Bears defensive end Israel Idonije said. “That’s why our coaches put him in those situations, because we know he can carry that load. He can shadow, and be a pest for whoever he’s covering and really suffocate them, and he did that.”
Johnson was targeted for a game-high 19 passes, but he caught just seven of them for 81 yards. With the exception of a few plays, Tillman exclusively covered Johnson.
Afterwards, Johnson was ready to move on.
“I missed a lot of opportunities,” Johnson said. “But hey, football things happen, and we just have to put this behind us.”
In his ninth NFL season, Tillman has yet to play in the Pro Bowl, something that makes middle linebacker Brian Urlacher upset.
“He always has one [a Pro Bowl year],” Urlacher said, “but no one gives him credit.”
Urlacher suggested that Tillman’s lack of picks may be the reason, although he’s consistently among the best in the league at forcing fumbles.
For his part, the 30-year-old Tillman said he feels like he’s having his best season yet.
“The thing I try to do is not give up big plays, and create some turnovers. They haven’t been there, like I want them to,” Tillman said of turnovers. “But I haven’t been giving up big plays, and that’s my No. 1 job. Keep my guy from scoring. For the most part, that’s been a success.”
The Lions had five turnovers in the previous eight games, but they had six against the Bears. Urlacher can’t remember a more remarkable performance from his unit.
“I don’t think we’ll lose too many games playing like that on defense,” Urlacher said. “That’s as dominant as I’ve been around. They had yards — whatever.
“But we got takeaways when we needed to, and scored with them.”
Tillman said the entire defense was in a zone, which made Sunday so memorable.
“Everyone is making plays; that’s why you play the game,” Tillman said. “For the love of it. You saw the kid in every player on defense today. That’s what made it fun.”