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Tillman leading the way for Bears' potent defense

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Tillman leading the way for Bears' potent defense

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) Charles Tillman was asleep when President Obama gave him a big shout out on ESPN.

It's one of the few times he wasn't locked in.

The star cornerback has been turning heads everywhere with his play, even at the White House, and so have his teammates on the Chicago Bears' defense.

A group that came into the season with some question marks is supplying plenty of answers and leading the way for a team that's 7-1 heading into Sunday's showdown with the Houston Texans.

A big part of that is Tillman, the guy Obama touted for defensive player of the year during an interview aired Monday night.

The praise came on the heels of Tillman forcing four fumbles in a 51-20 blowout of Tennessee the previous day.

``It was a great honor. I was actually asleep when he did the interview. I go to bed early - four kids,'' said Tillman, whose wife is expected to give birth to their fourth child in the next few days. ``I was asleep, but I had a bunch of text messages that morning when I woke up. I definitely thought it was cool to get mentioned from our Commander-in-Chief. Thanks for the shout out.''

It's even better in a season like this.

The Bears lead the NFC North, and the defense is a big reason why. Few teams have been as dominant in that area, Houston being an exception, and the way they're shutting down opponents is raising eyebrows.

A defensive line that was widely considered a weakness even with Julius Peppers is getting contributions from all over, and the Bears are tied for third in the NFL with 25 sacks. Eight more and they match last season's total.

But it's not just the pressure they're getting; it's the takeaways they're creating.

No defense has been more relentless. Chicago leads the league in takeaways (28) and turnover differential (plus 16), and their seven defensive touchdowns tied the 1942 team's record. All have come on interception returns, which puts them third on the NFL's single season list behind the 1998 Seattle Seahawks (eight) and 1961 San Diego Chargers (nine).

``To have 28 in eight games is incredible,'' Houston offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said. ``Some teams wish for that in two years, so they're always looking to get the ball. It all starts up front. They do a great job of pressuring and making sure you rush and putting your offensive linemen on an island at times from what they do. They work very hard at it and they're good at it.''

Takeaways have been a hallmark of the Bears' defense ever since coach Lovie Smith took over in 2004. They lead the league with 294 during that span and are second in interceptions (174) and fumble recoveries (120), but what's happening this season is nothing short of extreme.

Brian Urlacher said he hasn't seen anything like it.

``At any given time on Sunday, anyone on this defense can score,'' he said. ``We didn't have that back in the day.''

Then, there's Tillman, who finally made the Pro Bowl last season and is raising more eyebrows this year, whether he's picking the ball off or punching it out of opponents' arms.

In his 10th season, he leads the league with seven forced fumbles, and he made history with Lance Briggs earlier in the year when they became the first pair of teammates to return interceptions for touchdowns in back-to-back weeks.

For a guy who was overshadowed for most of his career, he sure is getting plenty of attention these days.

``He should've been getting it for the past 10 years,'' Briggs said. ``He's played at a high level. He's an elite player and has always played at a high level. Now, in Year 10, he's taken it up to another level. He's a defensive-player-of-the-year type player. He's a core, he's a leader and he's one of our best players.''

And he's going strong in his 30s, just like Briggs and Peppers. Urlacher's had a rough time recovering from a knee injury, but he's also coming off his best game after returning an interception for a touchdown, forcing a fumble and recovering one in last week's blowout win at Tennessee.

It was another good sign for a defense that's been, well, looking good.

``The chemistry on this group is special,'' defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. ``Guys are coachable. A big part of anything you do, you've got willing men, coachable, and we have a lot of fun.''

NOTES: WR Alshon Jeffery (hand), DT Matt Toeaina (calf) and Urlacher (coach's decision) did not practice Thursday. ... DE Israel Idonije (ankle) and DT Henry Melton (back) were full participants after being limited the previous day.

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Women's World Cup 2019: Round of 16 bracket is set as USA soccer readies for knockout round

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USATSI

Women's World Cup 2019: Round of 16 bracket is set as USA soccer readies for knockout round

LE HAVRE, France (AP) -- The defending champion U.S. national team faced its toughest test of the Women's World Cup and remained dominant Thursday night, beating Sweden 2-0 to serve up a measure of revenge against the team that stunned the confident Americans in the last Olympics.

Lindsey Horan scored within the first three minutes, the fastest goal of this tournament. The United States went up 2-0 on an own goal by Jonna Andersson in the 50th minute that gave the Americans a tournament-record 18 goals in the group stage. The U.S. did not concede a goal in its first three matches.

Already assured a spot in the round of 16 before the game, the United States finished atop of group F and will head to Reims to face Spain on Monday, June 24th. Sweden will play Group E runners-up Canada in Paris. The U.S. currently has 9 points 

The meeting was the first tournament game between the two teams since the quarterfinals of the 2016 Olympics. The Swedes bunkered in on defense and advanced on penalties after a 1-1 draw, handing the United States its earliest-ever exit from the Olympic tournament. Former U.S. goalkeeper Hope Solo called the Swedes "cowards" for the defensive stand.

Round-of-16 Schedule

Saturday, June 22

Germany vs. Nigeria, 11:30 a.m. ET

Norway vs. Australia, 3:00 p.m. ET

Sunday, June 23

England vs. Cameroon, 11:30 a.m. ET

France vs. Brazil, 3:00 p.m. ET

Monday, June 24

Spain vs. United States, Noon ET

Sweden vs. Canada, 3:00 p.m. ET

Tuesday, June 25

Italy vs. China, Noon ET

Netherlands vs Japan, 3:00 p.m. ET

Quarterfinals 

Thursday, June 27 

TBD vs, TBD, 3:00 p.m. ET

Friday, June 28

TBD vs TBD, 3:00 p.m. ET

Saturday, June 29

TBD vs TBD, 9:00 a.m. ET

TBD vs TBD, 12:30 p.m. ET

Semifinals 

Tuesday, July 2

TBD vs TBD, 3:00 p.m. ET 

Wednesday, July 3

TBD vs TBD, 3:00 p.m. ET

Third-place game

Saturday, July 6 

TBD vs TBD, 11:00 a.m. ET

Final 

Sunday, July 7

TBD vs TBD, 11:00 a.m. ET

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2019 NBA Draft: Hawks trade up to No. 4, reportedly plan to pick Virginia's De'Andre Hunter

2019 NBA Draft: Hawks trade up to No. 4, reportedly plan to pick Virginia's De'Andre Hunter

The first big move of NBA Draft night - according to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski - was to help Atlanta land Virginia's De'Andre Hunter.

Per Wojnarowski Atlanta has acquired the No. 4 pick from the Pelicans, which they got from the Lakers in the mega-deal for Anthony Davis, for the picks No. 8, 17, and 35. With that fourth overall selection, the Hawks plan to take Hunter. 

Hunter, the reigning ACC Defensive Player of the Year and a member of UVA's national championship team this past season, was profiled in NBC Sports Washington's I Am The Prospect series.

In his interview with NBC Sports Washington, Hunter described what he expects draft night to be like for him and his family. 

"Draft night's gonna be really emotional. I don't know if I'm gonna cry or not, but I know a few members of my family will be crying, so that'll probably get to me a little bit," Hunter said. "It's gonna be a great moment for not only me but for my family as well."

In another pre-draft trade, the Suns have acquired the No. 11 pick and forward Dario Saric from the Timberwolves for the No. 6 pick, per Wojnarowski

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