Kenny Britt might not have heard Charles Tillman coming. But the Tennessee Titans swear they weren’t blindsided by the play of the Chicago Bears’ veteran cornerback.
No, they were ransacked.
On the game’s first play, Tillman chased down Britt from behind and jarred the ball loose. Tillman never let up, forcing four of the Titans’ six fumbles in a 51-20 loss on Sunday at LP Field.
“We knew coming in that he was great at stripping the ball, that’s how he tackled,” wide receiver Kendall Wright said. “We just didn’t protect the ball like we were going over all week. He is just good at what he does.”
Tillman’s tendency to create turnovers wasn’t a secret.
The 10th-year player out of Louisiana-Lafayette entered with 32 interceptions, 32 forced fumbles and eight defensive touchdowns. Leading with his helmet and prying with his hands, Tillman harassed a slew of Titans (3-6) with his team-high nine tackles.
“It is always on my mind,” Tillman said of creating takeaways. “I am very conscious of it. I speak it. I believe it. I practice it. It happens. I guess I have gotten good over the years at punching. ... It can misfire at times, but I would probably say 90, 95 percent of the time if I miss, or I don’t get the forced fumble, I am pretty confident that I can get the tackle.”
Since 2004, Chicago leads the NFL with 294 takeaways, including 120 fumble recoveries.
Against the Titans, the Bears created six fumbles, recovered four, and turned two into touchdowns. Future Hall of Famer and middle linebacker Brian Urlacher also intercepted Matt Hasselbeck and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown. Along with the pick, Urlacher, a 13-year veteran, forced a fumble, recovered the one by Britt and had seven tackles.
“The defense was a frenzy out there, really taking the ball away,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “That’s what we are, that’s what the guys believe they can do every play. That’s the mindset.”
Running back Chris Johnson fumbled twice — once because of Tillman and another because of Urlacher. The second came after a screen pass from Hasselbeck. He tried to sidestep Tillman, who wouldn’t let him by and knocked the ball away as he went in for the tackle. Three plays later, Jay Cutler threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall — the first of three scores for the former Denver Broncos duo — to take a 28-2 lead with 1:40 left in the first quarter.
“He just finds a way of getting his hands on the ball and knocking the ball out and always being around the ball,” Johnson said. “I guess you can say he hustles a lot but he does a good job of finding the ball.”
In addition to Britt and Johnson, Tillman also victimized tight ends Craig Stevens and Jared Cook.
Early in the fourth quarter, Tillman gravitated to Cook and separated him from the ball. Three plays later, Cutler again hooked up with Marshall to cap off the Bears’ scoring with more than 10 minutes left.
“It is very frustrating,” Cook said. “I guess we need to practice what we preach a little bit more. It was a little surprising that it caught a lot of us off-guard. We got to prepare better against that. We got to protect the ball better.”
Actually, the Titans’ ball security had been pretty good.
They had fumbled 11 times and lost just five. Only once — against Detroit in the third game of the season — the Titans had lost more than fumble.
Of course, that was before the Bears and their one-man turnover machine came to town.