Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs have been Chicago Bears teammates for a decade, watching each other grow from talented rookies to entrenched starters to savvy veterans.
If they weren't forever linked before, they surely are now.
Tillman and Briggs made NFL history Sunday by becoming the first teammates to return interceptions for touchdowns in consecutive weeks. Tillman's score was pivotal in a 41-3 victory at Jacksonville.
"We're still going strong 10 years later," Tillman said.
The Bears (4-1) scored 38 unanswered points in the second half to win their third consecutive game. The streak has everything to do with defense. Chicago has returned five interceptions for touchdowns in those games.
Tillman and Briggs returned two of the team's five INTs for scores in Monday night's 34-18 victory at Dallas. Major Wright returned one the previous week against St. Louis.
Tillman's second of the season — a 36-yarder in the third quarter Sunday — proved to be the decisive play in a game that saw as many punts (six) as points in the first half.
"This one was an easier catch," Tillman said, recalling his juggling pick of Tony Romo's pass six days earlier. "Last week, it was, 'Is he really throwing me the ball?' This week was normal. This one was easier. It came at a good time. We needed a lift, and that score got us rolling to the point the offense started putting up points after that."
The Bears finished with 501 yards of offense, 309 in the second half, and held Jacksonville to 45 yards after the break. The Jaguars ran just four plays in the third quarter.
"It's been the same thing for five years," Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said. "Obviously, we're not working hard enough. I don't know. We're just not playing well right now. We have to figure something out. No one here is going to save us. We got to look man to man at each other and figure out what we're going to do."
The Jaguars (1-4) never recovered from Tillman's touchdown and played the final quarter amid a chorus of boos. Jacksonville now heads into its bye week with serious questions about what direction the team is headed under general manager Gene Smith, quarterback Blaine Gabbert and maybe even first-year coach Mike Mularkey.
With Smith assembling the roster, the Jaguars have lost 18 of their last 24 games.
They have been downright pathetic in three home games this season. They managed 117 yards in the home opener against Houston, 212 last week against Cincinnati and 189 Sunday.
"I can talk up here all night about what we did, but that's not going to cure anything," Gabbert said. "We've got to come out in the second half and play better football. It starts with me. When you throw two Pick 6's in a half, that's awful. I've got to find a way to fix that and get this offense going a little bit."
Gabbert completed 17 of 33 passes for 142 yards, with two interceptions and a lost fumble. The Bears stacked the line of scrimmage, clearly wanting to shut down Jones-Drew. It worked, as Jones-Drew finished with 56 yards on 12 carries.
Following Tillman's score, the Jaguars allowed consecutive touchdown drives after playing stout defense in the first half.
Jay Cutler hooked up with rookie Alshon Jeffery for a 10-yard score on the first play of the fourth quarter and then found Brandon Marshall for a 24-yarder with 8:37 remaining in the game.
Briggs' score came after that, a 36-yard return that made it 34-3.
"The defense put up some points again," said Cutler, who completed 23 of 39 passes for 292 yards. "We're never really out of a game with those guys on defense."
Marshall caught 12 passes for 144 yards. Matt Forte, who has one touchdown this season, ran 22 times for 107 yards.
Few outsiders gave the Jaguars a chance before the game. The only thing that seemingly was in Jacksonville's favor was catching Chicago on a short week. The Bears got home from Dallas early Tuesday and were back on a plane Saturday.
That may have contributed to Chicago's slow start. But it mattered little in the second half — thanks mostly to the interceptions.
"I know they know how important it is to take the ball away," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "There is an emphasis on it. And after a while, you see one guy doing it, you want to join in on that action. It's discouraging to the offense. We normally win when we score one time, and it's probably safe to say we haven't lost when we score a couple times on the defensive side."
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