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MORRISSEY: Charles in charge: Tillman interception brings Bears to life again

Charles Tillman breaks open game with his 36-yard interceptireturn for touchdown. | Stephen Morton~AP

Charles Tillman breaks open the game with his 36-yard interception return for a touchdown. | Stephen Morton~AP

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Updated: November 9, 2012 6:18AM



JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Charles Tillman won a football game all by himself Sunday.

Oh, right. Sorry. This is a team sport, and you know how football coaches are about anything that chips away at the concept of ‘‘family.’’ So we’ll play nice and say Tillman couldn’t have done it without Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Blaine Gabbert, a very generous fellow. And the Bears cornerback can thank the NFL for awarding a franchise to a city that either doesn’t care about football or is discerning enough to boycott the game when it’s played poorly.

It didn’t take much to suck the life out of the Jaguars and their lonely stadium. With the Bears holding an indifferent 6-3 lead in the third quarter, Tillman intercepted Gabbert and obediently followed his blockers into the end zone.

It’s how one man broke open a game that had sunk into a sticky, torpid symposium on Bad Football.

The 36-yard interception return breathed so much life into the Bears that the game became a blowout. That’s no exaggeration. He turned what looked like a trap game into a 41-3 rout in front of a thin crowd with a definite pro-Bears bent to it.

Tillman deals in interceptions and fumbles. It’s what he does. No, it’s what he is. He walks and talks and intercepts and punches loose footballs. Sunday’s pick was his second interception for a touchdown in two games, giving him the Bears’ career record for defensive touchdowns with eight. Seven of those were interceptions; the other was a fumble he returned for a score.

In a reflection of how good the Bears’ defense has become and how no record can go unnoticed these days, Tillman and linebacker Lance Briggs became the first teammates in NFL history to score touchdowns on interceptions two games in a row.

‘‘I wish they wouldn’t tell me about stats and stuff like that,’’ Tillman said. ‘‘Tell me that when I’m older on the day I retire about all the [records] I break. It’s cool. It’s an honor. The Bears go back 200 years, they’re so old. With all the players who’ve come here and what they’ve done and to be that guy, it’s an honor.’’

Tillman’s interception was his own; the weaving interception return he gives to former Bears safety Mike Brown.

‘‘I know he’s not playing with us, but I learned a great deal from him, the way he scored and set up the blocks,’’ he said. ‘‘That was the only person I thought about as I was running: ‘That’s what he would have done. It worked! Snap! I scored!’ ’’

Tillman said last week’s interception against the Dallas Cowboys was easy — too easy. Tony Romo threw the ball right to him. Tillman’s thought process:

‘‘Last week was, ‘Is he really throwing me the ball? He can’t be throwing me the ball. I’m about to drop this ball. I’m double-clutching the ball. Don’t drop the ball. I caught the ball. Oh, I got it! OK, score.’ ’’

Whatever Tillman has done and is doing isn’t about luck. You don’t do what he does because good fortune follows you like a spotlight. You study film. You study players. And you practice what you’ve learned, every single day.

‘‘You see around the league, a lot of guys drop the interception,’’ Bears defensive back D.J. Moore said. ‘‘He catches it.’’

Tillman’s true gift is causing fumbles. This is a guy who can get beat three plays in a row, make you think he might want to start shopping for retirement communities and then force a fumble. You shake your head.

But your amazement fails to take into consideration how much work he puts into stripping the opponent of the ball.

‘‘He does it every day in practice,’’ Moore said. ‘‘He’ll throw his shoulder out trying to get the ball out. In my rookie year, I was on the scout team as a receiver, and he almost broke my wrist one day trying to punch the ball out. It looks real smooth, but it’s a straight right jab.’’

Louisiana-Lafayette inducted Tillman into its Hall of Fame on Saturday, and he said he was touched. He brought that high into Sunday’s game. It showed.

The Bears find comfort in their 10-year veteran, especially when things aren’t going right. They look to him with certain expectations. They ask him to change a game. It’s impressive how many times he does it.



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