Turnovers are supposed to be the ultimate X-factor in the NFL –the reason why you can never bet on Michael Vick; it’s the biggest reason why ”anything can happen” and often does.
While some teams are better than others, there’s a randomness that makes them so unpredictable from week to week. A defender theoretically can’t sneak up on you forever — after awhile you’re on the look-out for him. If a team has a knack for stripping the ball, you just make a conscious effort to hold onto the ball … and problem solved. That’s supposed to be the fatal flaw of team’s that live by the takeaway.
That’s what the uncanny run of takeaways by Charles Tillman and the Bears so amazing. Opponents are well aware of what they’re up against and they still can’t do anything to stop Tillman from getting the ball out.
Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson had fumbled one time this season and lost two fumbles in the last two seasons coming into Sunday’s game against the Bears. Yet even though he knew what was coming, he still couldn’t avoid fumbling twice and losing possession both times in a 51-20 loss to the Bears at LP Field. Tillman forced four fumbles against the Titans. The Bears recovered three of them.
”The coaches tipped us good on how well they force turnovers,” Johnson said. ”I think they’re close to setting a record for turnovers and touchdowns on defense. It’s just a situation where they made some good plays. They are very good at what they do about getting the ball out.”
As for Tillman’s knack for forcing fumbles …
”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.”
On all, the Titans fumbled six times and lost four of them. Coming into the game they had fumbled 11 times and lost five in eight games. And they knew they were going against the best team in the league at stripping the ball.
”It’s like telling someone not to leave a putt short on the green,” Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. ”You don’t want to do it. All you can do is practice a certain way. Call it out. There are things you can do. We know we have to do it. It’s why you play. It started from the first play of the game.”
That’s when Hasselbeck threw a 23-yard pass to wide receiver Kenny Britt — only to have Tillman come from behind and strip the ball, with Brian Urlacher recovering.
”It was no shocker. It wasn’t like we didn’t know,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. ”CJ [Johnson] is not know to be a fumbler and he fumbles twice. Were they better at popping it out than the other teams? I would think they were, but obviously they’d find a way to get it done, so that’ a credit to them — a team that’s 7-1 now.”
”They [the coaches] were preaching all week about turnovers,” said Titans tight end Jared Cook, who had not fumbled in 28 catches this season but was stripped by Tillman after his second catch Sunday. ”One guy [Tillman] caused four, six total. You can’t win against a good team like that turning the ball per that many times. It’s tough. It was very frustrating.”