(MCT) — CHICAGO — Tim Jennings appeared distinguished, donning a pair of dark-rimmed glasses in the Bears locker room Sunday, citing the importance of intelligence as well as athleticism to play the game well.
The opportunistic cornerback looked like the smartest one in the room after his 25-yard interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Bears’ 23-22 victory over the Panthers.
“It happens a lot around here, so I think we’re getting a little bit used to it,” quarterback Jay Cutler said of big plays from the defense. “We knew that something was going to happen and those guys were going to make some play for us. And it always comes at a big time in the game. Their big plays and ability to create turnovers is fun to watch.”
Whether it’s Charles Tillman, Lance Briggs, Major Wright or Jennings, the Bears defense has been putting crucial points on the board.
With the Panthers leading 19-14, Cam Newton unleashed a sideline pass in the direction of receiver Steve Smith.
“I slipped,” Smith said. “I was running my route. I slipped and the ball was thrown. It was off and (Jennings) caught it.”
Panthers coach Ron Rivera said the bad footing at Soldier Field proved costly for his team.
“When you get a chance to look at it, you’ll see,” said Rivera, a former Bears linebacker. “I think it was the right foot ... when (Smith) was making a cut. It came out from under him, and it led to the play.”
Jennings could hardly believe his eyes when he saw the pass sail toward him.
“I kind of knew the play was coming. I just wanted to play my technique,” Jennings said. “I was in the right position, he slipped on the play. The quarterback threw it. I knew I had the opportunity to make the play. Once I did, it was touchdown from there on in.”
Newton wishes he had never thrown that pass.
“Smitty slipped. It was a timing route,” Newton said. “I shouldn’t have thrown the ball. The ball was coming out of my hand ... I kind of felt him slipping. With that route there’s a lot of trust. I just wanted to give Steve a chance. You can’t do that. You need to protect the football better than that.”
After the Bears’ two-point conversion failed, the Panthers regained the lead at 22-20 on a 45-yard field goal by Justin Medlock. But the Bears offense finally got on track as Cutler led a nine-play, 55-yard drive to Robbie Gould’s 41-yard winning field goal.
Bears coach Lovie Smith has noticed how the defense gets the offense energized.
“It got everyone going,” Smith said. “Once you get a little bit of life ... I can’t say we didn’t have life before ... but things just weren’t going our way. As for energizing, yeah, you need someone to come up and make a play, and (Jennings) did.”
Brian Urlacher marvels at the turnovers being created by his teammates.
“Steve Smith is a good receiver; he’s going to make some plays,” Urlacher said. “But Tim made the biggest play of the game.”