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Charles Tillman has fond memories of Bears’ comeback win over Cards

GLENDALE AZ - OCTOBER 16:  Charles Tillman #33 Chicago Bears carries ball his way touchdown fourth quarter against ArizonCardinals

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 16: Charles Tillman #33 of the Chicago Bears carries the ball on his way to a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Arizona Cardinals October 16, 2006 at Cardinals Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. The Bears won 24-23. (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Charles Tillman

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Updated: January 22, 2013 10:09AM



Bears cornerback Charles Tillman has played in the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl, but he considers a mid-October regular-season game in 2006 the most memorable of his NFL career.

The 24-23 ‘‘Monday Night Football’’ victory over the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium provided the Bears with the signature win of a Super Bowl season and triggered one of the greatest postgame rants.

“As a team, we felt we were always in the fight,” Tillman said, recalling an inspired speech from Pro Bowl center Olin Kreutz at halftime when the Bears trailed 20-0. “It was a fun game to be a part of because of the chemistry we had, the camaraderie, the teamwork.

“We were very optimistic about the result of that game.”

After the game, then-Cardinals coach Dennis Green unleashed his epic “they are who we thought they were” tirade.

Now the Bears return to Arizona, where they face a must-win game to keep alive faint playoff hopes, and ponder this question: Who are they?

At 7-1, the Bears looked like a Super Bowl-caliber team, reminiscent of the 2006 squad that was paced by a dominant defense. But after losing five of the last six, the Bears look like playoff pretenders, a team fraught with issues, most notably a lack of an identity on offense.

The Bears can make a statement Sunday.

Like in 2006, the Cardinals have struggled, snapping a nine-game losing streak by defeating the Detroit Lions last Sunday. The Cards have an opportunistic defense, but their offense is in shambles, featuring a rookie quarterback who will make his fourth start. Ryan Lindley, a sixth-round pick out of San Diego State, has yet to throw a touchdown pass. He has thrown six interceptions and lost two fumbles.

Only seven Bears from the 2006 roster remain, and two key leaders — Kreutz and safety Mike Brown — are long gone. And don’t expect any rousing speeches from the veterans who played in that last game, especially Tillman.

“I’m not the talker; I’m not the one to give great Leonidas speeches off of ‘300,’ ” Tillman said, referring to the popular 2006 action movie. “I just lead by example.”

Besides, Tillman and defensive end Israel Idonije said bringing up that game would be pointless.

“That was then,” Idonije said. “This is a whole new season, new team.”

The Cardinals have dramatically changed since 2006, most notably with Green being fired and replaced by Ken Whisenhunt.

He recalled watching some of that game while he was an assistant coach with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

“That’s a long time ago, but I certainly heard enough about it when I got here, that’s for sure,” Whisenhunt said. “And obviously with Coach Green and what happened afterward. . . . That was something that you still see on commercials once in a while.”

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald watched that game from the sideline.

“That’s probably one of our worst collapses,” Fitzgerald said. “It never brings back good memories.”

The Bears are trying to stop their own slide, and Tillman would like his teammates to embrace a different approach this week. Before playing the Green Bay Packers last Sunday, the Bears were noticeably more outspoken than usual. But after falling behind 7-0, the Packers regrouped and defeated the Bears 21-13 at Soldier Field to clinch a second consecutive NFC North title.

“Ultimately what it boils down to, we need to go back to the fundamentals and stop talking about excuses and what we need,” Tillman said. “We just need to go out and play football.”

And if keeping their playoff hopes alive isn’t enough, Bears veterans might have another motivation. If they win, coach Lovie Smith might oblige some veterans and let them fly from Phoenix to wherever, then return to Chicago on Tuesday (Christmas) night. If they lose, though, players will be required to be at Halas Hall on Tuesday morning.

“Our biggest concern right now is beating Arizona,’’ linebacker Lance Briggs said. ‘‘We’ve lost [three] in a row. Our postseason, it’s all on the line right now.”



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