Jennings, Bears defense rising to challenge

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LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — If opposing quarterbacks want to challenge him, that’s just fine with Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings. He just hopes they don’t stop.

“I want to continue to try to make some plays and make some plays on the ball,” he said Monday. “The most opportunities I can get, hopefully the number can increase.”

Jennings was leading the league with four interceptions through Sunday and was one of the bright spots on a defense that’s been sending out reminders lately that it is an effective unit.

That group came up big in a 23-6 win over St. Louis, with the line again applying the pressure and the secondary doing its job, while the offense struggled for the second straight week.

The Bears were leading the league through Sunday with 14 sacks after taking down Sam Bradford six times, and the defensive backs were making big plays, too.

“It’s been a huge impact, as you can see,” Jennings said. “Any time we can create a whole bunch of sacks and get the quarterback a little jittery back there, us in the back end, we’re just able to react quick. It’s not going to be a whole lot of pump fakes, not going to be a whole lot looking around, so as soon as we see the quarterback looking and getting ready to throw it we’re getting ready to break.”

The Bears are already nearly halfway toward their sack total from last season, when they tied for 19th with 33 and ranked 28th overall against the pass.

It helped that St. Louis’ offensive line had already been hit hard by injuries, but Chicago also made plays against Andrew Luck and Aaron Rodgers in the first two games against Indianapolis and Green Bay. The Bears’ defensive line has been getting contributions from just about everyone — not only Julius Peppers — with Israel Idonije delivering 2 ½ sacks on Sunday.

And in the secondary, safety Major Wright came through with the biggest play when he returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown to make it a 14-point game in the fourth quarter. It happened when Jennings deflected a short slant intended for Danny Amendola.

“They’re consistently getting better,” quarterback Jay Cutler said. “It’s hard because they’re at such a good level. To see them get out there and dominate like that — they’re in complete control of their offense and exactly what was going on. It’s a tough group to go against.”

Besides the deflection on Wright’s touchdown, Jennings also had an interception, giving him at least one in all three games. Considering he had just seven interceptions in his first six years and never more than two in a season, that’s a huge improvement.

Then again, he realizes the opportunities to make plays are going to be there with a Pro Bowl player in Charles Tillman at the other cornerback spot. It’s up to Jennings to take advantage, something he didn’t do a year ago.

He had trouble hanging onto the ball, and coach Lovie Smith made it clear at the end of the season he needed to work on that. So that’s exactly what Jennings did, catching about 100 balls a day from the Jugs machine during offseason workouts and training camp. He said it didn’t help, either, that he was dealing with a finger problem last season, and the missed opportunities added up to a confidence issue, too.

“I kind of understood where (Smith) was coming from,” said Jennings, who re-signed with the Bears for two years in March. “I thought I was playing good football, but I knew I was missing a whole lot of opportunities. I knew if I had another opportunity to get another shot at this in Chicago — which is (where) I really wanted to be, I thought it was a good fit for me — I just wanted to make the best of it. I made a conscious effort to kind of go back to what I used to do. I really did think I had great hands. Confidence got kind of low. I wanted to get back to the basics.”

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

(AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

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