CHICAGO -- When Chicago Bears cornerback Tim Jennings drew the assignment to shadow Steve Smith he set a pregame goal of "minimizing" the impact of the Carolina Panthers star wide receiver, who has always been a thorn in the side of Lovie Smith's defenses.
Although Smith still finished the game with seven catches for 118 yards, Jennings did limit the wideout to one reception over 20 yards (49) and zero touchdowns.
"He's a Pro Bowl receiver who's been doing this for awhile," Jennings said. "He's going to make some plays and I just had to step up to the challenge and minimize his playmaking ability. We knew they were going to go to him, but I just kind of wanted to hang in and continue to be aggressive because I knew the opportunities were going to come and they were going to go to him each and every pass play. I just wanted to be in position.
"No. 89 is the guy. That's the guy. We knew we had to stop the running game but in the pass plays we had to lock in No. 89."
Lovie Smith, who had matched Charles Tillman (6-foot-2) against Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson (6-5) on Monday night, said body type swayed him to go to Jennings (5-8) against Smith (5-9) on Sunday.
“It’s body type, simple as that,” the Bears coach said. “As we see big receivers, as a general rule we’re going to put our big corner (Tillman) on (him). And we’re going to look at the skill set a bit, too: You know guys about the same height, weight, both have good quickness. We have two (No. 1) corners. So they realize throughout the course of the year who they’ll be matched up against most of the year.”
Jennings wasn’t quite as successful against Smith as Tillman was against Johnson. Tillman limited Johnson to three catches for 34 yards during Chicago’s 13-7 win over the Lions.
“Last week we let Charles Tillman know he was going to have tough duty all day (covering Johnson),” Smith said. “He knew exactly who he’d be guarding, shadowing him the entire game. We did the same thing with Tim Jennings this week with Steve Smith; thought he did a great job.”
Jennings had a sense Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was going to target Smith when Carolina got the ball back with under seven minutes left in the game after the Bears had cut the deficit to 19-14. On first-and-10 from the Carolina 20-yard line, Newton threw a ball outside for Smith that Jennings picked off and ran back for a touchdown to give the Bears their first lead since the second quarter.
"We kind of practiced that all week and the coaches prepared us for that all week," Jennings said. "Once he (Smith) motioned over he had kind of a tight split so I wanted to play my rules and play outside. If he was going to run an inside breaker route I wanted it force it to the defense, but he kind of ran an out (pattern). I had outside leverage and he slipped on the play and I had an opportunity to make a play on the ball. The quarterback threw it and I caught it and was able to take it to the house."
Jennings had another interception in the second quarter on an underthrown ball by Newton to give him a team-high six picks on the season. The Bears now have six defensive scores on the year by four different players (Jennings, Lance Briggs (2), Charles Tillman (2) and Major Wright).