Charles Tillman was having himself a game against Minnesota, and it wasn’t even half over.
Tillman recovered an Adrian Peterson fumble, tackled receiver Jarius Wright short of a first down and stripped receiver Jerome Simpson of a potential first-down reception before leaving with an ankle injury.
Indeed, Tillman was on his way to a big game, which means the Bears could be on their way to a big loss, perhaps the biggest from Sunday’s win over the Vikings.
Tillman was part of a potentially killer injury list that included starters, backups-who-became starters, and everyone on the roster named Lance.
Right guard Lance Louis tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee on that hit by Jared Allen that was so dirty that Allen has been named an honorary Detroit Lion. Linebacker Lance Briggs, kick returner Devin Hester, running back Matt Forte and left guard Chris Spencer suffered injuries that took them off the field, too.
Along with Tillman, every one of them contributes to a team that requires big plays from all three units, although Hester has been a better decoy than an actual returner. Not to diminish the value of Pro Bowlers Briggs and Forte, but the argument over the most painful Bears injury Sunday comes down to Tillman vs. Louis. That’s my argument about what this argument comes down to, anyway. Your mileage may vary.
The already-dicey offensive line became a bigger mess amid injuries, demotions and an AWOL left guard. Louis was the most reliable lineman. Spencer was a starter when the season opened. Now, demoted right tackle Gabe Carimi likely will play guard. Timing is everything, right, Chilo Rachal?
But face it: Cutler is going to run for his life at times no matter who’s supposedly blocking. If that gets even worse, then I was wrong about this injury argument, and both Cutler and the season will be dead.
Failing that, I’ll argue the side of the Bears’ candidate for defensive player of the year.
I realize that everything about the defense starts with Julius Peppers the way everything on offense starts with Cutler. But they’re not injured. That’s not the discussion.
Tillman takes advantage of the defensive line’s pass rush, but he is a Pro Bowler at creating his own advantages. Forcing fumbles, picking off passes, covering the opponent’s best receiver – you name it. Tillman is a game-changing player on what remains the Bears’ most important unit.
Look, if everyone else could do what Tillman does, they would. But they can’t.
The news Tuesday morning from Trib colleague Vaughn McClure was that Tillman has what is believed to be a chipped bone in his right foot. It is not thought to be serious and, even though Tillman did not finish Sunday’s game, it’s possible he could play against Seattle.
The good thing is that Tillman has been tough and durable over the years despite a number of surgeries and injuries. He hasn’t missed a game since the 2009 season, and even then it took fractured ribs and a bruised lung to keep him out. Tillman’s history suggests he will suit up Sunday.
Then we can start a new debate on which remaining outpatient would be the Bears’ biggest loss.