Charles Tillman’s TD return sets Bears record
By Mark Potash firstname.lastname@example.org January 1, 2012 11:00PM
Devin Hester is tackled by Eric Frampton on a kickoff return in the first half. The Bears’ return teams had another tough day. | Andy King~AP
Updated: February 3, 2012 8:13AM
MINNEAPOLIS — The Bears are done. But cornerback Charles Tillman is going to Hawaii with momentum.
Tillman, who made the Pro Bowl for the first time in his ninth season, broke a franchise record with his fifth career interception return for a touchdown in the Bears’ 17-13 victory over the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Tillman’s 22-yard touchdown return, which came off a pass that was tipped by Vikings running back Toby Gerhart, was his second of the season. It gave the Bears a 14-10 lead in the second quarter. Tillman had tied safety Mike Brown and cornerback Bennie McRae with a 44-yard interception-return touchdown in a 37-13 victory over the Detroit Lions on Nov. 13.
‘‘I guess it’s good,’’ said Tillman, who also had a tackle for loss that would have been a sack but Joe Webb was ruled to be a runner on the play. ‘‘I didn’t realize I broke it until [Bears media-relations assistant Mike Corbo] told me.
‘‘I think that just goes to show how much I do not pay attention to my stats. I think it’s you all who always bring it up. So, yeah, one day when I’m old and retired, I’ll look back at my stats and say, damn, it’s pretty good. But in the moment right now, I’m just trying to play and get better and just keep going.’’
Hester stifled again
Devin Hester continued to struggle on kick returns. He was tackled at the goal line on a kickoff return in the first half — it nearly was a safety — but the play was nullified by an offside penalty on the Vikings. Hester averaged 11 yards on two kickoff returns and two yards on two punt returns.
With the return game out of sync, the Bears finished the season with 44 consecutive drives that started in their territory in the final four games.
‘‘It’s tough,’’ Hester said. ‘‘We’ve been trying to find a new unit, playing guys here and there. You just have to be able to pick up [the slack].’’
A vote for Martz
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz’s future heads the offseason agenda. The Bears’ offense made progress when Jay Cutler was healthy, but it stagnated after he was injured. Martz is a free agent after completing a two-year contract.
‘‘We were 7-3 at one point because he was our offensive coordinator,’’ center and offensive captain Roberto Garza said. ‘‘He’s a great coach and knows exactly how to motivate us. You’d like to have continuity. So we’d like to have him back. But it’s out of our hands.’’
Don’t count him out
Wide receiver Roy Williams (four receptions, 60 yards) made his bid to return next season with a 22-yard touchdown catch that capped an eight-play, 90-yard drive in the second quarter to cut the Vikings’ lead to 10-7. Williams finished the season with 37 receptions for 507 yards and two touchdowns. He said he hopes to return next season.
‘‘I like our wide receiver corps,’’ Williams said. ‘‘I think we [complement] each other. When we get an offseason in together, which we didn’t have last year with the lockout — I just came in off the street — and get in with Jay, I think we’ll be perfect.’’
Bits and pieces
Julius Peppers blocked a 28-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter. It was the 11th blocked kick of his career and the Bears’ 23rd since Dave Toub became their special-teams coordinator in 2004.
◆ After being minus-9 in turnover differential in the first six games without Cutler, the Bears were even Sunday with three takeaways and three giveaways.
◆ Punter Adam Podlesh had a 45-yard average Sunday to set a franchise record with a 40.5-yard average for the season. The previous best was 38.7 set by Brad Maynard in 2004.