Mel Tucker’s halftime tongue-lashing gets defense motivated

SHARE Mel Tucker’s halftime tongue-lashing gets defense motivated
SHARE Mel Tucker’s halftime tongue-lashing gets defense motivated

It was a Lovie-esque move by defensive coordinator Mel Tucker. The Bears’ defense was playing well enough to win Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Soldier Field, but it wasn’t enough.

So Tucker laid into his defense at halftime.

‘‘He was just going nuts,’’ defensive tackle Stephen Paea said.

‘‘Oh, he was definitely fired up,’’ safety Chris Conte said.

‘‘He told us if we don’t win this game, it’s going to be on the defensive side of the ball,’’ nickel back Demontre Hurst said.

It was a page right out of Lovie Smith’s book for defensive motivation. Fittingly, the former Bears coach stood on the opposite sideline when Tucker’s defense forced three second-half turnovers to ignite a 21-13 victory. It was exactly what Smith’s defenses did so well during his nine-year run in Chicago.

‘‘It’s tough to win the football games when you lose the turnover ratio,’’ Smith said afterward.

The Bears’ players involved in them had little to do with Smith, however. Linebacker Lance Briggs injured his groin late in the second quarter and joined cornerback Charles Tillman (injured reserve) on the sideline.

Rookie linebacker Christian Jones recovered a fumble by quarterback Josh McCown after defensive end David Bass sacked and stripped him of the ball on the Bucs’ third possession of the third quarter.

McCown was intercepted by safety Ryan Mundy on the Bucs’ next play from scrimmage when his high pass went off the hands of running back Charles Sims. In the final minute of the third quarter, Hurst forced a fumble by receiver Vincent Jackson at the Bears’ 8-yard line.

The Bears scored 14 points off turnovers — running back Matt Forte’s 13- and one-yard touchdown runs — to end a bad trend. It was the first time since Week 5 that the Bears’ offense turned defensive takeaways into points.

Now, forcing the 2-9 Bucs into errors isn’t exactly a major accomplishment. The Bears shouldn’t forget what the New England Patriots and Green Bay Packers did to them. But it was the second consecutive stout defensive performance by the Bears against an opponent they should have beaten on their home field.

At the very least, that’s progress.

If Tucker truly is coaching for his job, his halftime tirade served him well. Defensive players said Tucker typically gives speeches at halftime, but this was one felt different. There was cursing galore, but the demands for takeaways and pressure were met. Perhaps Tucker was tired of all the love for Lovie in the last week.

‘‘[It was] a little bit better, a little bit better,’’ said second-year defensive end Cornelius Washington, who had a sack and two tackles for loss.

‘‘We really responded to Mel,’’ said Conte, who had an interception in the first quarter. ‘‘He got us going.’’

Tucker sent all sort of looks at McCown, who was sacked five times, hit 13 other times, finished with a 64.7 passer rating and even faced pressure from Hurst, Jones and linebacker Shea McClellin. Stunts freed up linemen for one-on-one rushes. Paea stood out with two sacks and three additional hits on McCown.

‘‘The basic thing about it was [Tucker] saying, ‘We’re playing too dang good to be down by 10 [at halftime],’ ’’ Paea said. ‘‘We didn’t change anything. We went out there with the same play calls. We actually just executed better.’’

Tougher tests await the Bears, but the young players who are getting more snaps emphatically defend Tucker.

‘‘I love Mel,’’ Washington said. ‘‘Lately, we’ve been having some troubles, and everybody is dissing that and talking about firing people. Nobody is going anywhere. Mel is a good coach.’’

But it was Jones, who replaced Briggs in nickel situations, who offered the most appropriate description. He referred to Tucker as a ‘‘father figure,’’ something Smith often is called.

‘‘You don’t want to disappoint,’’ Jones said. ‘‘You want to play hard for him, and that’s what we’re doing. We’re just following Coach.’’

Email: ajahns@suntimes.com

Twitter: @adamjahns

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