Bears can't blame losses on D but await Briggs' return

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- While teammates are leaving town for the weekend, Chicago BearsPro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs will spend much of it rehabilitating his injured left ankle.

Not exactly fun, but these aren't exactly the best of times.

Briggs hopes to be ready to play against Buffalo in Toronto and the struggling Bears (4-3) hope the weekend off gives them enough time to regroup after losing three of four in ugly fashion.

Briggs missed most of last week's loss to Washington after sitting out the previous game. He plans to stick around this weekend and be at the team's headquarters early.

The Bears, meanwhile, are going nowhere at the moment thanks to a bumbling offense that is hogging the spotlight from a defense more or less doing its job.

"We're playing well, but this is the ultimate team game," defensive end Israel Idonije said. "We're in this fight together: offense, defense, special teams. We all have to find a way to win games, so that's what's most important."

The Bears' problems on offense are well-documented.

Chicago boasts a league-worst 18 percent third-down conversion rate, 12 interceptions and 31 sacks. It ranks 30th in yardage (290.4 per game), 29th in rushing, 29th in passer rating and 26th in points per game.

Quarterback Jay Cutler is getting tossed around like a rag doll with 27 sacks -- 19 in his past three games. That includes a nine-sack first half against the New York Giants that left him with a concussion and caused him to miss the next game, a win over Carolina.

When he's not going down, he's making questionable decisions, and the result last week against Washington was particularly ugly. DeAngelo Hall tied an NFL record with four interceptions, returning one 92 yards for the go-ahead touchdown, yet the thought of avoiding him never entered Cutler's mind. In fact, he said he would do the same again and go at Hall.

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New offensive coordinator Mike Martz, meanwhile, is under fire too for his pass-happy ways and ignoring the run.

But the defense is holding up its end after a steady decline the past few years, even if it's not quite showing the dominant form of 2006 or invoking images of the Monsters of the Midway.

The group is allowing 305.3 yards per game -- fifth fewest in the NFL -- and is tied for second in the league with 17 takeaways. They're doing it without taking down the quarterback.

Chicago is tied for 24th with 11 sacks despite signing Julius Peppers away from Carolina in the offseason. The five-time Pro Bowl defensive end has just two so far, one since the opener.

The Bears said he would draw double and triple teams and take pressure off the rest of the line. He has done that, and although it hasn't led to many sacks for him or the rest of the line, the impact is there.

"Our defense is doing what it's supposed to do," Idonije said. "Sacks, all that stuff, doesn't matter. We're doing well. If you're getting pressures and you're getting interceptions, if you're holding teams on third downs, you're doing something right."

With nine interceptions, the Bears are tied for seventh and just three off the league lead. On third downs, they're holding opponents to a league-low 30 percent conversion rate.

It helps that there have been no major injuries, with a healthy Brian Urlacher providing a boost. Now they need Briggs to heal.

"I thought I could play last week," he said. It just didn't work out that way. While everybody else is getting dressed right now and headed to the airport, I'll be here at 8 o'clock sharp and getting treatment and making sure I'll be ready to play next week."

He said he didn't necessarily tweak or aggravate the ankle last week; it was just too painful to keep playing, period. Asked if he's still feeling pain, Briggs said: "I have pain in my heart."

"I have pain everywhere. I hate when I don't get to play. I'll be practicing next week, and if there's any question marks, you'll know."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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