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NYT Fifth Down: Post-week 9

by Chase Stuart on November 7, 2012

in NYT

Are the Bears the best team in the NFL? This week at the New York Times, I profiled the incredible season the Bears are having. If you feel like every few years the Bears come out of nowhere with an incredible defense and a questionable offense, you’re right.

The 2012 Bears stand as the next in a long line of Bears teams that wildly exceeded expectations thanks to a great defense. Chicago ranks second in points allowed and rushing yards allowed, and fifth in net yards per pass allowed. Chicago leads the league in turnovers forced and red zone defense. But this year’s defense is doing things no other Bears defense — or any other N.F.L. defense, for that matter — has ever done.

Chicago has returned seven interceptions for touchdowns in eight games. Before this season, no other team had more than five pick-sixes after eight games, and the Bears are only one interception return for a touchdown away from tying the single-season record, held by the ’98 Seahawks (in the A.F.L. in 1961, the San Diego Chargers returned nine interceptions for touchdowns). But Chicago’s defense hasn’t just been a big-play defense. The Bears have allowed only 10 touchdowns this year, and five of them came in garbage time. Matthew Stafford threw a touchdown with the Lions down by 13 with 36 seconds left, and four other touchdowns came in the second halves of Chicago victories with the Bears already leading by 20-plus points. That means the Bears’ defense has allowed only five meaningful touchdowns while scoring seven of their own. Incredible.

Against the Colts, Chicago forced Andrew Luck into three interceptions and allowed just 7 meaningful points. Against the Rams, Chicago scored 7 points and allowed 6. In Dallas, Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs scored on interceptions, while the defense limited the Cowboys to just 10 meaningful points and intercepted five Tony Romo passes. In Jacksonville, Tillman and Briggs became the first teammates to score on interception returns in consecutive weeks, and the Bears limited Jacksonville to 3 points.

Against Detroit, the Bears forced six fumbles (recovering three) and held the Lions’ high-flying passing attack to a last-second touchdown; half of Detroit’s 12 drives ended in three-and-outs. Against the Panthers, Chicago’s defense was forced to overcome a Bears offense that gained just 61 yards in the first three quarters and held the ball for only 23 minutes 22 seconds in the game; still, Tim Jennings’s defensive touchdown in the fourth quarter proved to be the play of the game.

Chicago’s performances in the first half of the season were apparently just a warm-up act for Week 9 against Tennessee. On Sunday, on the first play from scrimmage, Charles Tillman forced a fumble, giving the Bears the ball in Titans territory. The Bears forced Tennessee to go three-and-out on each of its next two possessions, with the second stalled drive leading to a punt that was blocked and returned for a touchdown. Later in the first quarter, Hester returned a punt to the Titans’ 8-yard-line, setting up a one-play scoring drive. On the Titans’ next drive, Urlacher intercepted Matt Hasselbeck and returned it for a touchdown. On Tennessee’s next play from scrimmage, Tillman stripped Chris Johnson of the ball, giving Chicago possession at the Titans’ 16. Three plays later, Cutler found Brandon Marshall for a 13-yard score. After the first quarter, the Titans had eight drives, and the four that ended in three-and-outs and punts were the good ones.

Tillman ended the day with four forced fumbles; while not an official statistic, Tillman continues to force fumbles at an unprecedented rate for a cornerback. Unofficially, he now holds the modern record for most forced fumbles in a game, and with seven this season, he could easily exceed the record of 10 forced fumbles by Osi Umenyiora (2010) and Dwayne Harper (1993). If not for the monster season J.J. Watt is having for Houston, Tillman would be a leading candidate for defensive player of the year.

Check out the full article for some historical comparisons and some insight from Aaron Schatz.

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