Turnovers the key in Bears' 26-21 win over Bucs

 
 
Updated 12/27/2015 8:18 PM
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  • Bears linebacker John Timu celebrates with head coach John Fox after recovering a fumble by Buccaneers running back Doug Martin during the third quarter of Sunday's game in Tampa.

    Bears linebacker John Timu celebrates with head coach John Fox after recovering a fumble by Buccaneers running back Doug Martin during the third quarter of Sunday's game in Tampa. Associated Press

TAMPA -- The heroes of the Bears' 26-21 victory over the Buccaneers were two unlikely rookies.

Safety Harold Jones-Quartey spent eight games in the doghouse after he let Lions Pro Bowl wide receiver Calvin Johnson catch a 57-yard pass over him to set up the Lions' 37-34 overtime victory on Oct. 18.

John Timu spent nine games on the practice squad before moving into the starting lineup a week earlier.

Neither of them were deemed worthy of a draft pick by any of the 32 NFL teams.

But without them, the 6-9 Bears couldn't have gotten the victory that ensured they will have a better record than last year's 5-11 nightmare.

"We feel it," coach John Fox said. "We're getting there. We (still) need to improve, and they know it. But they're still trying to finish this year well, and we've got one more game (at home against the Lions) to try to avoid a double-digit losing season."

Jones-Quartey and Timu were involved in all 3 of the takeaways that gave the Bears their first win in more than a month and dropped ex-Bears coach Lovie Smith's Buccaneers to 6-9.

With the score tied 7-7 in the second quarter, Bucs rookie quarterback Jameis Winston flipped a short pass to running back Doug Martin. But at the end of a six-yard gain, Jones-Quartey put his helmet square on the ball, and Timu was there for the recovery at the Bears' 45-yard line.

"That's the easy part," Timu said. "Just pick up the ball and celebrate with your teammates. I was just a guy running to the football to see if they needed help, and I guess not. I was just picking up the fumble. See ball, get ball."

Jones-Quartey said he was just following orders.

"(Assistant defensive backs) coach Sam Garnes preaches that every day, 'Take the ball out,' " he said. "When you see a running back, you gotta come strip the ball. That's our chance to flip the game. Turnovers are huge, and coaches have been preaching that all week. We came out there and executed."

The Bears' red-zone-challenged offense settled for Robbie Gould's 26-yard field goal, and he added another, from 27 yards, just before the half for a 13-7 lead.

The Bucs regained the lead 14-13 on the opening possession of the second half and were threatening to pad their advantage when Jones-Quartey picked off Winston at the Bears' one-yard line.

It was his first NFL interception and just the eighth for the Bears, who came in ranked 27th in interception percentage. It was also similar to the play that got him benched after two starts back in October.

On the Bucs' next possession, another undrafted Bears rookie, inside linebacker Jonathan Anderson, forced Martin to fumble again. And again Timu was there for the recovery, this time at the Tampa 23.

A week earlier, Timu had a game-high 9 tackles but said he couldn't enjoy it because the Bears lost to the Vikings 38-17. Playing well and getting a victory was different.

"It feels great," Timu said. "Just running to the ball. That's an emphasis each week. You never know what can happen, a guy trailing knocking the ball out, interception, tipped ball, so keep running to the ball because good things happen."

After Timu's second fumble recovery, the offense, which did not have a turnover, scored on Jay Cutler's 1-yard TD pass to running back Ka'Deem Carey. Two more Gould field goals, from 50 and 39 yards, created a 26-14 cushion, which came in handy later.

Winston's Hail Mary 43-yard TD pass to Austin Sefarian-Jenkins with one second left made it interesting. But Cam Meredith, another Bears undrafted rookie, recovered the Bucs' onside kick.

Afterward Fox mentioned the contributions of the Bears' relatively obscure rookies, starting with Jones-Quartey.

"The interception was key," Fox said. "That was down in minus territory. Those are always big. To be on that side of the turnover margin (plus-3), that helped us win."

The safety has come a long way since he played his first two seasons at Division II Findlay (Ohio) as a wide receiver. To compensate, he said he needed to exude a sort of swagger.

"It's just a confidence that I have to carry," he said. "I've been an underdog all my life. A small-school guy, I'm playing against big-time guys, and I'm not afraid, so I have to do something to make them know that I'm not timid out there."

Timu said it's all about coming of age -- in a hurry.

"You have to grow up and mature fast," Timu said. "There is no red-shirt (year) in the NFL. Either you're in or you're not. If you're part of the team, you're blessed. If not, you'll fall behind and be out of the league as quick as a snap."

On Sunday, Jones-Quartey and Timu played as if they want to be around for a long time.

• Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere.

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