Bears defense strong when it counts

In Chicago's 23-22 victory over the Carolina Panthers this afternoon, the Bears' defense overcame a lopsided time of possession disadvantage, allowing yards but not touchdowns.

Thanks to a slow start by the Chicago Bears in this afternoon's contest at Soldier Field, the Carolina Panthers were on the verge of ending their five-game losing streak. At halftime, the Panthers were leading the Bears in time of possession 19:48 to 10:12. Chicago was trailing in total yards 226-49 and the defense had not created any turnovers.

Through three quarters, with the Bears trailing 19-7, many were wondering what happened to the defense that had carried the team to a 5-1 record.

"We're still here," CB Charles Tillman said after the game. "But we definitely let down during the early part of the game, perhaps even as late as the third quarter."

Chicago's defense held firm though in the face of immense pressure. The offense turned the ball over three times in the first half, which left the defense on the field for long stretches. In the second quarter, the Panthers executed an 18-play drive, further wearing down the defense.

Yet the defense never gave in, limiting Carolina's offense to three field goals in the second half. Cornerback Tim Jennings intercepted Panthers quarterback twice, one of which he returned for the go-ahead touchdown with 6:44 left in the game.

"What made the difference ultimately was our pride," Tillman said. "We have pride in our defense. We know what we can do. We had to just get going out there, doing what we do best. Pressuring the quarterback, breaking up plays, doing all that we can. Giving our offense the best possible chance to come away with the game."

Tillman finished the contest with seven total tackles, including one for a loss. He also held Panthers WR Brandon LaFell to just three catches.

"You'll notice all of the Carolina scores came from kicks. We definitely were doing something right out there. Keeping our opponents out of our end zone is primary in our scheme of things. So in that sense I'd say it was a strong performance."

Carolina's passing offense did post some solid numbers. Newton threw for 314 yards and receiver Steve Smith caught eight passes for 118 yards. Yet Chicago's defense did a good job limiting touchdowns, holding the Panthers to just one score off a Newton fumble that was recovered in the end zone by Louis Murphy.

"We knew going in that those guys would be tough," Tillman said. "They had some great plays. We adjusted our coverage accordingly as the game progressed."

Key to the adjustment was the mindset of the Bears' defense throughout the game.

"We never gave up," Tillman said. "We always felt that we could and would win. Look what happened. We won. And in the process, we learned a lot about what we need to do, what we need to change to be successful all of the time. We learned a lot about our team.

"In tough situations we have perseverance. It's throughout this team, offense, defense, special teams, coaches, everybody. Keep playing. Keep playing. Keep playing. It's so important that we function as a unit in that way. We encourage each other. Going forward that probably will be the most valuable lesson from today's game."

Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.

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