NASHVILLE Members of the Bears defense are approaching a rarified place. Beyond planning for takeaways. Beyond even expecting them.
The Bears are no longer surprised when a football comes loose. Particularly when Charles Tillman is nearby, players admitted they are becoming surprised when the football does not come free.
We do, we do expect it to come out, said defensive end Julius Peppers.
Safety Chris Conte has seen enough to know: You expect it every time and then youre surprised when it doesnt come out, because most of the time, it is.
What has crept into the Bears thinking is a swarm mentality that goes beyond even coaches preaching of running to the ball.
Along with the expectation that the football will be available has come a supercharged effort to get there, to not be the one not around when the turnover is forced.
Call it a constructive fear of being left out.
Youd better run to the ball because 33 is going to get it out, Peppers said. Youre going to get a chance for a tip or interception so you better get there.
For Conte and safety mate Major Wright, Thats how we have to think, Conte said. You dont want to not be there when the ball comes out.
Tillman legend growing
Tillman took another giant step four of them, actually toward being named NFL defensive player of the year for 2012. His four forced fumbles in the 51-20 crushing of the Tennessee Titans had even teammates whove seen him do this for year shaking their heads.
I think we are all seeing history being made, said linebacker Lance Briggs. Ive never seen anybody whos been able to do the things hes able to do, and do it consistently.
Tillmans four forced fumbles, part of a total of six footballs knocked loose from Titans, along with an interception return for a touchdown by Brian Urlacher, gave Tillman seven through eight games.
It is a must. A mindset. A mantra.
I dont think it is difficult, Tillman said. It is always on my mind. I am very conscious of it. I speak it. I believe it. It happens.
What made Tillmans and the Bears performance even more jaw-dropping was that the Titans spent all week with their coaches drilling into their heads that the Bears would be coming after the ball. Perhaps that spooked the Titans. Perhaps not.
The coaches tipped us good on how well they force turnovers, said running back Chris Johnson, who lost two himself.
Whether the Titans took the tips seriously enough is for them to sort out. And they may simply have been the wrong team in the wrong place when the takeaway tsunami was coming in.
Ive never seen anything like it, Urlacher said. Every week it seems like we are talking about one of those two corners Tillman, Tim Jennings doing something like that. Its unbelievable.