On 2nd-and-9 from the Bears’ 27-yard-line, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton connected with wide receiver Mohamed Sanu for a 10-yard gain. But as Sanu tried to pick up additional yardage, Bears cornerback Tim Jennings popped the ball out of Sanu’s grasp and Jennings snatched it from the ground.
Jennings’ takeaway was the third and final one for the Bears on the day. Bears cornerback Charles Tillman accounted for two first-half interceptions. The Bears went ahead on the possession following Jennings’ takeaway and held on for a 24-21 victory.
The afternoon wasn’t entirely picturesque for the Bears’ defense -- the Bengals averaged 6.2 yards per play and were 7-of-11 on third downs – but it still found a way to prevent the Bengals to rack up points as the Bears turned to what the Bears still do best -- create turnovers.
The Bears led the league with 44 takeaways, which included 24 interceptions and 20 recovered fumbles, last season and could be headed in that direction again. Their three takeaways on Sunday tied them for third in Week 1.
“We played very similar to the way we played last year,” Bears safety Chris Conte said after the game. “Turnovers are the key, and that’s always going to be the key for us on defense. It just proved itself again.”
Another similarity to last season was the players behind the takeaways on Sunday. Jennings had nine interceptions, and Tillman accumulated 10 forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and three interceptions last season.
Tillman didn’t make himself available to the media after Sunday’s game, but his teammates had plenty to say about him.
“To get the ball out and create turnovers and get interceptions, stuff like that, that’s what we’re all about, and Peanut [Tillman] is the pinnacle of it,” Bears linebacker Lance Briggs said.
Briggs was positive about the Bears’ takeaways and stepping up in key situations, but he also thought the Bears had do a better job on third downs and limiting big plays. The Bengals were as efficient offensively as nearly any team was against the Bears last season. The Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers had slightly better numbers across the board against the Bears last year.
Despite the way the Bengals were moving the ball against them, Jennings and Briggs said they never stopped believing a takeaway was around the corner.
“That’s just the confidence we have in our defense,” Jennings said after Sunday’s game. “We know that’s what we need to do. Even if we went back out there and was up, we got to take the ball away so we make sure that game is secured for us. Anytime we put that added pressure on us, we feel like just have to go out there and dominate and get the ball back, get off this field.”
Briggs said, “I think time after time when we need a play, I think there’s a guy, there’s a Bear, on that field that’s going to make that play happen. That’s one of the sweet parts of being on this team, being in this organization, is that everybody wants it bad.”