- Jesse Rogers, Chicago Cubs beat reporter
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LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- For the first time since the inception of the award in 1986 two cornerbacks from the same team have won defensive player of the month awards after Charles Tillman followed teammate Tim Jennings as the NFC winner for October.
"He has his style, I have my style," Tillman said of Jennings, who won the award for September. "I think it's what makes our defense a little bit better than some. We're able to match up with different receivers. So I definitely think that's a bonus for us."
The duo has combined for eight interceptions, three forced fumbles and three touchdowns through the first two months of the season. The awards are even more impressive considering the position they play.
"I don't know if anyone has had two corners get the award in back to back months," Bears coach Lovie Smith said.
But the rarity doesn't end with two cornerbacks winning the award in the same season. For comparison, last season four linebackers from four different teams won the award in the AFC while three defensive ends -- including the Bears' Julius Peppers -- and one linebacker won it in the NFC.
The cornerbacks simply don't get that kind of recognition -- until now.
"That's awesome," defensive back Craig Steltz said. "You have two guys playing incredibly well. We're proud of them and that's a great accomplishment for both of them."
Perhaps the two are garnering so much attention because the numbers are eye-popping. Opposing quarterbacks have a 44.7 passer rating when they throw Tillman's way while Jennings has been targeted over twice as much and opposing quarterbacks have just a 38.6 rating.
"Going from backup to starter to superstar, you have to look up to him pretty much," teammate D.J. Moore said of Jennings.
The two have simply been "making plays" as Moore put it. Smith says that's about the only way cornerbacks get recognized. Tillman's shutdown of Detroit Lions star Calvin Johnson in Week 7 on national television was called a thing of "art" by Brandon Marshall while Jennings' athletic interception of Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck in Week 1 is still one of the great highlights of the first half of the season.
But when cornerbacks win those awards most point to the entire defense as the underlying reason. It starts with the pass rush then to the linebackers doing their jobs which leads to playmaking by the defensive backs.
"I think that's just a complement to our whole defense in general," Moore said. "Normally those that get defensive player of the month come from a good defense."
Smith agreed but also didn't want to take anything away from his corners, especially Tillman.
"When we're talking about Charles Tillman I'm going to make it about Charles Tillman," Smith said. "I think our corners, you have to just acknowledge, for what they've done. To be recognized as a cornerback you have to make plays. It's as simple as that."
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli isn't sure if "there has been anyone in the league" as good as Tillman in forcing fumbles. He has 32 in his career to go along with 32 interceptions. Brian Urlacher pointed out that Tillman has gotten even better under Marinelli.
"Our two corners are special to me," Marinelli said. "Not just catching the ball. Tackling and competitive guys. They are really special guys."
Tillman was asked if the Bears have the best two corners in the NFL.
"I don't know," he said. "We're only halfway through the season, and I definitely think there is some room for improvement for myself and Tim. The sky is the limit. I definitely think we could be. But you don't get any awards halfway through the season for being the best cornerback tandem."
Maybe not, but Tillman and Jennings made a strong case by making history with their back-to-back awards.
"I think there is potential for that," Tillman said about being the best. "We just have to keep doing what we're doing."