LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Lance Briggs made it clear just a few weeks ago he wanted to be traded if the Chicago Bears wouldn’t restructure his contract. He hasn’t stopped making big statements since then.
He’s just delivering them on the field.
The six-time Pro Bowl linebacker has been creating his usual havoc and will try to keep it up against Carolina on Sunday, while Chicago (1-2) will look to brush off back-to-back losses to New Orleans and Green Bay.
He’s been credited with 15 tackles by the team in each of the past two games and is playing as well as ever at age 30.
“That ceiling can go a long way with him, with what he can do,” coach Lovie Smith said. “And we need our stars to play like that each week. And he’s definitely one of our stars.”
Against Green Bay, Briggs had seven solo tackles and two tackles for loss. He stripped James Starks in the backfield early in the fourth quarter of a 27-17 loss, leading to a fumble recovery by Julius Peppers and a 32-yard touchdown pass from Jay Cutler to Kellen Davis.
A week earlier, he had 10 solo tackles at New Orleans, but the Bears got knocked around 30-13. They’ve allowed 57 points in the past two games, and that stands out to Briggs as Chicago prepares for Carolina.
Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers each threw for three touchdowns while completing more than 70 percent of their passes against a defense that ranks 25th overall. Now comes Newton, the rookie sensation who has more than lived up to the billing after being taken with the No. 1 pick in the draft. All he’s done so far is throw for more than 400 yards twice, tying and then breaking the single-game record for a rookie, and he ranks third behind Tom Brady and Brees with 1,012 yards.
“We haven’t been playing characteristic type of football,” Briggs said. “We can’t expect to win games if we’re giving up that many points.”
Briggs, meanwhile, might be better than ever.
“Am I? Probably,” he said, smiling.
Briggs is one of only four linebackers in franchise history to make six straight Pro Bowls, along with Dick Butkus, Bill George and Mike Singletary, and he has led the team in tackles two of the past three years.
In that sense, it is not hard to see why he might want a new contract. It’s also not hard to see why the Bears wouldn’t budge.
With three years left on a six-year, $36 million deal, management basically told Briggs to leave them alone and that issue appears to be on the backburner for now.
There are more pressing matters for a team coming off losses to two of the best teams in the league. If the Bears want to contend after winning the NFC North and advancing to the conference championship game, they need to win games like this week’s.
Briggs certainly has been doing his part.
“He’s a premier tackler in space,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “He’s as good a tackling linebacker in this league, not just in line tackling but in space. He’s exceptional. He’s got great instincts.”
Some of those instincts developed when Panthers coach Ron Rivera was the Bears’ defensive coordinator from 2004 to 2006. He got Briggs to buy into the system, what they were trying to accomplish, and helped him develop into a Pro Bowl player.
“He had a way of explaining things to a player, to inspire him, and it also let me know that he was there,” Briggs said. “He’ll tell you, `That’s not an easy play for anybody to make, but if you can make that play, you will shut this play down.’ For me, that helps in a lot of ways. I’ve gone through life with a lot of coaches who say, `Just do it this way because I told you to do it.’ Ron Rivera to me, everybody kind of felt the same way about him.”
He’s looking forward to seeing Rivera and, for that matter, Greg Olsen, the tight end the Bears traded to Carolina in the summer.
“It’ll be fun seeing Greg cross the middle,” Briggs said. “I’ll get a chance to cover him, get my hands on him a little bit, maybe get a chance to irritate him. But hey, outside of that, it’s fun.”
NOTES: The Bears held S Chris Harris out of practice Thursday because of soreness in his hamstring after he participated without limitations the previous day. “You’re always concerned when a guy misses a Thursday practice, but we have a little bit of time, still,” Smith said. “We have other guys who can play if he can’t go, but hopefully, he’ll be able to.” … RB Kahlil Bell (back) sat out, while WR Earl Bennett (chest), TE Matt Spaeth (calf) and OT Gabe Carimi (knee) remain sidelined. RB Marion Barber (calf), S Major Wright (head/neck) and LS Patrick Mannelly (hip) practiced without limitations.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)