Late in the third quarter of Monday Night Football, the New York Jets took the ball with a first down at the Chicago Bears 18-yard line. The Bears were up 24-13 at the time and allowing a touchdown would have cut their comfortable lead to just four points with more than a full quarter of football remaining.
It was just one of many plays Fuller made on the evening, as he finished with seven total tackles, two forced fumbles, an interception and three pass defended. It’s a performance made even more amazing when you figure he could have potentially had four interceptions, with two passes bouncing right off his hands and one falling just out of his reach.
Fuller now has three interceptions through the first three contests, which leads the entire NFL.
“We harp on takeaways every day,” Fuller said after the game. “It’s the most that I’ve ever harped on takeaways and it’s really paying off.”
Fuller’s two forced fumbles, neither of which the Bears were able to recover, were very reminiscent of Charles Tillman and his patented Peanut Punch. Some might call it the Fuller Fist.
“When [Tillman] was playing – and I’m really upset he can’t be out here playing – he was always getting the ball out. It amazed me,” said Fuller. “I definitely shout out to him on those two forced fumbles. He’s one of the reasons why I’m going for the ball so much.”
After two interceptions last week, an outing that earned him NFC Defensive Player of the Week honors, Fuller followed that up with another outstanding outing. At this point, it’s clear he’s the future of the defense and could be the cornerstone of this team for many years to come.
“I make it simple. I just let it all come to me. I’m just trying to build on it,” Fuller said.
Yet Fuller wasn’t the only rookie who contributed to the victory. Second-round DT Ego Ferguson picked up the first sack of his career – which is one more than Jared Allen has this year – while second-round DT Will Sutton filled in well for Jeremiah Ratliff, who missed the game due to a concussion.
Yet the play that eventually sealed the game came from fourth-round S Brock Vereen, who knocked away a 4th-down pass in the back of the end zone in the waning moments of the game.
“That’s a credit to the coaches,” head coach Marc Trestman said. “We went through training camp saying we were going to rotate guys around, that we were going to work all those guys and get them in. It’s just a credit to [defensive coordinator] Mel [Tucker] and our staff.
“You look out there and we’re playing with Will and we’re playing with Ego and Kyle, and we’re playing with Brock Vereen on Monday Night Football three games into September. Our coaches have done a very good job of getting them ready and our veteran players have certainly been a part of that preparation, of teaching them what it takes to play in this league.”
At one point, due to injuries to Chris Conte (shoulder) and Ryan Mundy (shoulder), and a brief ding to Danny McCray, the Bears trotted out rookie Ahmad Dixon, who signed with the club last week. Dixon also had a great game on special teams, picking up a tackle and a big fumble recovery.
Yet despite all the new, young faces on the field during crunch time, Fuller said the defense never lacked confidence.
“We talk about poise all of the time and I never felt any pack with the guys who were out there,” said Fuller. “We were all poised, we were all confident that whoever had to step up would come in there and get the job done.
“I had a lot of confidence. It just came down to coming out there and doing our job. It worked well for us. Definitely a big team win.”
The play of Chicago’s young defenders has not only helped the team to a 2-1 record – good for a first-place tie with the Detroit Lions in the NFC North – but it should also pay dividends down the road. Late-game snaps in one-score games on prime time television will give this group of youngsters confidence during the playoff stretch this year and beyond, which is a great sign for the defense going forward.
"These young guys are playing great," Jared Allen said. "It's a testament to their attitude. I've been around some entitled rookies before where they think everything should be given to them. I can honestly say we don't have one rookie on our team who thinks he's entitled to anything. They work and it shows up on the field."
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. He is in his fourth season covering the Chicago Bears full time. Follow Bear Report on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Bear Report Web site or magazine, click here.