JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Maybe this Bears offense needs the defense to get it rolling.
For the second straight game an interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Charles Tillman jump-started a sluggish offense and provided the turning point in a 41-3 victory over Jacksonville that was close for a while but turned into a rout.
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And for the second straight week, linebacker Lance Briggs also returned an interception for a touchdown, completing the blowout and sending Jaguars fans streaming out of steamy EverBank Field. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this the first time in NFL history two teammates have returned interceptions for touchdowns in back-to-back games.
Taking the ball away and then doing something with it are tenets that coach Lovie Smith has preached since he arrived in 2004. But it's never worked as well as it has in 3 straight victories.
"It's nothing particular," defensive end Israel Idonije said. "It's the system we play. We get after them up front. If the ball's coming out quick, the guys in the back seven are going to make plays. That's just the defense; that's how it's built."
Smith, along with coordinator Rod Marinelli, are the architects of the defense, and it appears they've constructed a monster.
"It's the DNA of our defense," Smith said. "It's not a good game unless we take the ball away."
Briggs' interception was the fourth pick the Bears have returned for a touchdown in the past two weeks and the fifth in three weeks. The victory elevated the Bears to 4-1 and kept them tied with the upstart Vikings on top of the NFC North, while the Packers fell to 2-3 and the 1-3 Lions had the week off.
With the defense protecting a 6-3 lead late in the third quarter, Tillman read Blaine Gabbert's pass intended for rookie Justin Blackmon and easily navigated the 36 yards to end zone. It was the seventh interception return for a TD in his 10-year career.
That and a halftime lecture from Smith got the Bears rolling. Smith is well known for not using bad language, but he got his point across just the same.
"He was cussing us out without cussing," Tillman said. "We were flat in the first half, but in the second half we came out with a sense of urgency."
Even after the blowout victory, Smith still seemed perturbed by the slow start.
"That's not what we wanted to start the game," he said. "We were not as sharp as we need to be."
For the second straight week, the Bears dominated the third quarter, allowing Jaguars (1-4) to run just four plays. The Jay Cutler-Brandon Marshall Show was on full display during a time-consuming 17-play, 9:25 drive to open the second half, although the Bears had to settle for Robbie Gould's 31-yard field goal that broke the 3-3 halftime deadlock.
Cutler and Marshall (12 catches, 144 yards, TD) hooked up on 5 short tosses that totaled 37 yards on that drive alone. But Cutler was sacked for the only time all day by a Jaguars defense that hadn't sacked anyone since the season opener, and right tackle Gabe Carimi was flagged for false starts on back-to-back plays after the Bears reached the Jaguars' 3-yard line.
The Bears' defense, which successfully focused on stuffing Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew, didn't fare quite as well early against the unheralded Gabbert in the first half. With the game tied at 3-3, he completed 4 straight passes to move the Jaguars to the edge of the red zone.
"I had concerns in the first half," Smith said. "We weren't playing as fast as we normally do. We were a little sluggish."
But then defensive end Corey Wootton, who had 2 of the Bears' 3 sacks, came flying off the edge so fast he appeared to have jumped the snap count, and he sacked Gabbert and knocked the ball loose. Julius Peppers recovered for the Bears at their 23.
Like the rest of the Bears, Cutler heated up in the second half after a dismal first 30 minutes. He finished with an 88.8 passer rating, completing 23 of 39 passes for 292 yards and touchdowns to Marshall (24 yards) and Alshon Jeffery (10 yards).
"We put up a lot of points, and our offensive line played great for me all day," Cutler said. "We're headed in the right direction."
After their bye this week, the Bears face the Lions and the Panthers (1-4) at home and then the Titans (1-4) on the road.