Charles Tillman is a thoughtful man.
You know this not just because he excels at a Pro Bowl level with skills that don’t often exceed those of the men with whom he competes, but also because of what he says in situations like Sunday’s.
There were some Bears believing that their 23-22 victory over Carolina was just a routine, come-from-behind win, and that all is great in the world of Bears football.
Tillman, not surprisingly, didn’t think it so simple.
“We played terrible,” Tillman said. “If we continue to play like that, we’re going to lose a lot of games.”
It doesn’t mean Tillman ever thought the Bears weren’t going to defeat the Panthers on Sunday, even though they were lifeless for 53 minutes and getting an appropriately flat response from the Soldier Field faithful.
“I think if you think you’re gonna lose, you are going to lose,” Tillman said. “We always say that we’re always in the fight no matter what the score and how much time left. Despite what the score says, we always believe that.”
The score said the Bears were down 19-7 midway through the fourth and being dominated on both sides of the ball.
“If we could just not play the fourth quarter,” said Panthers corner Josh Norman, “we could make this thing work.”
Yeah, it’s a problem because that pesky Roger Goodell insists on using all 60 of the allotted minutes.
“They don’t give out awards after the first half or three quarters,” Tillman said. “It’s a good thing they don’t.”
It was a rather shocking display by a Lovie Smith team that came in unprepared mentally — which can happen to anyone — and emotionally — which rarely happens to a Smith team and shouldn’t happen to any team in a 16-game season.
It shouldn’t, but it does. Even great teams sometime have trouble getting up for an awful opponent, especially one it doesn’t hate.
“That was an ugly one,” said Tim Jennings, who again made the crucial play of the game. “Offense didn’t play well, defense didn’t play well, and special teams didn’t make any big plays.”
Depending on how you approach the volume in the glass, one could choose to view the Bears (6-1) as less than great for having been beaten until the final ticks by a dreadful Carolina (1-6) team, or see them as a truly elite team that can fail to show for 3½ quarters and still win an NFL game.
“I don’t believe in ‘deserves,’” said center Roberto Garza. “I think NFL teams are so good that you’re lucky to win any NFL game. It doesn’t matter if they’re 1-5 or 5-1, it’s hard to beat anyone in this league.”
Of course, if Steve Smith doesn’t fall down on a quick-out, one play after the Bears had climbed to within 19-14, Jennings — who had his hat handed to him by Smith all day — doesn’t catch a pass thrown directly to him and waltz in from 25 yards out for another pick-6 and a Bears lead.
“I slipped,” Smith said. “Like most people on this grass, I slipped and it went right to (Jennings).”
The turn of events was typical this season for the Bears, who have a shot to win the NFC, and for the Panthers, who have an equally good shot at the top draft pick next April.
“If you were to tell someone how these weeks have gone and the different ways we’ve lost, they wouldn’t believe you,” said Carolina tight end Greg Olsen. “But you make your own fortunes in this league. You make your own bed.
“Over time, here and there, things might not go your way, but it all evens out and you have to find a way.”
That is the essence of the Bears’ mantra. Just find a way. Keep fighting. Never give up. Always believe there’s enough time on the clock.
To almost anyone outside the locker room, it draws chuckles and raises eyebrows. But the Bears don’t care about the cynics.
“We always talk about playing 60 minutes, two halves to a game and all that coach talk,” Smith said. “But that’s really what it came down to today.”
So the Bears escaped with a victory in a game in which defeat seemed certain, and the locker-room atmosphere suggested most players understood that a better effort will be necessary down the road.
That is especially true of the offensive line, which allowed Jay Cutler and his sore ribs to take a pounding.
“We didn’t execute, and I think that was obvious,” Garza said. “We need to be a lot better. We can’t just rely on the defense to keep scoring and save us every week.”
No reasonable person would suggest otherwise, but the Bears’ record is in black and white.
And it says that thus far it’s a formula that works.
ŸHear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.