Zoom returns to Bears' defense in a big way

CHICAGO _ Fortunately for Jerry Azumah, he was able to maintain his conditioning through most of a 10-week ordeal that started with surgery to repair a herniated disc in August.

It's a good thing -- the Bears' cornerback needed to be in good shape very quickly in the Bears 13-10 loss to the Washington Redskins.

Azumah got the chance in the second quarter to return an interception and took it the distance for a 70-yard touchdown.

"It's been a while, it's definitely been a while," said Azumah. "The main objective is once you get a pick, to just try to take it the distance. And we did that."

It was Azumah's fourth career touchdown return and second career interception return for a TD. The other interception return came in the Bears' January, 2002 playoff loss to Philadelphia.

Azumah had help on this one.

Defensive end Alex Brown tipped a Mark Brunell pass on third-and-nine with Washington driving at the Bears' 34. The ball popped high into the air and to Azumah, who needed one downfield block from Nathan Vasher on Mike Sellers to get down the sidelines for the score with 5:36 left in the first half. It got the Bears back within 10-7.

"I just basically read the play," Azumah said. "I was just trying to get to that area because he was looking that way.

"He threw it and the ball was tipped and it just landed in my hands."

Brown has become adept at making such deflections and defensive backs are now watching for tips.

"The defensive line made some plays with batted balls," Azumah said. "We knew we needed to go out there and make some plays to win the game.

"The line was real disruptive and that's what it takes."

The big play came at a precise moment when the Bears needed one, and was the longest interception return by the Bears since Jeremy Lincoln took a lateral after a Donte Jones interception and went 80 yards for a TD against Green Bay Dec. 5, 1993.

"That's one of the bright things that really did happen," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Jerry has been anxious to go. That's what you need. You need your playmakers to make plays.

"Just a great read for Jerry and, of course, once he gets an opening he knows what to do with the football."

Azumah's return to the playing field included three tackles and a pass deflection. It also included two kickoff returns for a 20.5-yard average.

Smith had no problem using Azumah in all aspects of play -- as a nickel back, cornerback and returner -- despite the neck surgery.

"We were going to hold off as far as letting him return kicks," Smith said. "We were hoping we didn't have a lot (of kickoffs) for him to return, No. 1. But we were going to hold off on that."

Bernard Berrian actually started the game returning kicks, and averaged 24.5 yards for two returns. When Azumah got the chance, he came onto the field and began waving his arms to try and energize a lifeless Soldier Field crowd after the Bears had fallen behind 10-0.

"No, I wasn't in the coach's ear at all," Azumah said. "I knew that I would get my chance and I got my chance.

"I was expected to play and that's what I did. I figured I would do everything. If I suit up and I put that helmet on, then I'm basically going to do everything that I've been doing and pick up where I left off."

When Azumah got on the field, he said he felt no butterflies or experienced thoughts about his injury.

"I wasn't really thinking about the whole comeback thing," he said. "I was just thinking about making play, going out there and making some plays."

The Bears needed every play he could muster -- and more.


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