Briggs: This team could be the best.
Briggs: This team could be the best
Julius Peppers hits Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers during the fourth quarter of the 2011 NFC Championship game at Soldier Field. (US PRESSWIRE)
Sunday, Aug. 7, 2011
Posted: 9:51 p.m.
BOURBONNAIS, Ill. – Lance Briggs takes his time considering the question. He has been a Chicago Bear since 2003, been on three division champions, two of which went to NFC championship games and one of those to a Super Bowl.
But he believes there is something special on the verge of happening this year.
“I think this team could be the best of them all,” he says quietly, nodding his head.
Last year coach Lovie Smith was certain as early as the finish of OTA’s, in which Jay Cutler, Julius Peppers, Brian Urlacher, Briggs and others were together, that the 2010 team was unequivocally going to be good. It would, in his mind, be the best of the seven teams he’d had in Chicago, better even than the ’06 Super Bowl team that sent eight players to the Pro Bowl.
So too, in Briggs’ mind, the team that was within a scoring drive of reaching the Super Bowl last January has added to both lines, wide receiver and elsewhere, with the only significant loss coming at center in the person of Olin Kreutz.
“But you look at our defensive line, with Julius, Izzy and now the new guys, and if the offensive line comes together without Olin, this can be the best,” Briggs tells CSNChicago.com, with a trace of emphasis.
But better than the Packers?
The Green Bay Packers already are the consensus pick to replace the Bears as the NFC North champions. They won a Super Bowl despite a litany of injuries that only served to showcase a collection of backups good enough to start for many teams and to win a championship.
But Briggs and the Bears are anything but taken with the Packers.
Two Bears-Packers games in 2010 were decided by seven points and the third by three. And the defense held Aaron Rodgers to two TD passes and four interceptions in the three games and to passer ratings below his season average (101.2) in all three.
Rodgers’ ratings in fact declined (92.5, 89.7, 55.4) with each game last year.
The Bears lost by six and seven points to Green Bay in 2009 with Urlacher out with a broken wrist.
“We don’t have blowout games,” Briggs points out. “We know how to play each other. And in the NFC championship game, we lost our starting quarterback and it still came down to the last possession.”
That “respect” thing
“The thing is, since I’ve been here, with the exception of ’07, after the Super Bowl, we’ve never been the popular vote, even in Chicago. We’re never the favorite,” Briggs says. “But it’s fine. It makes for motivation and a better season.”
You wonder, though, if it really is fine. No one likes living and working in a climate of chronic disrespect.
The Bears have had just two losing seasons (7-9 in ’07 and ’09) in the past six, yet are the butt of jokes and doubts and contempt in some civic sports venues.
The Packers have had three winning seasons in the past six. The Detroit Lions have had no winning seasons in the last six, yet are picked by some to finish ahead of the Bears.
“People pick the Lions ahead of us, and I think they’ll be good,” Briggs concedes. “But I’m really confident in us.
“The best part about reading that and critics picking against you, against you, against you, it’s fun to read what they’re going to say next. That’s part of the thing that motivates us.”
NFL’s best defense?
The Bears ranked fifth in yardage allowed last season (No. 1 vs. the run) and 4th in points allowed. With so many 30-plus veterans (Briggs, Anthony Adams, Israel Idonije, Peppers, Charles Tillman), can the defense realistically get any better?
“I think so,” Briggs declares. “We can be. I don’t think it even has to be a ‘numbers’ thing, comparing us to the Super Bowl team.
“But if we’re getting a lot of pressure from our defensive line, we’ll be the best defense in the league. We were already good and then we’ve added to that.”
After six Pro Bowls (consecutive) and a nine-year career alongside Urlacher that has seen him miss just four games since coming to the Bears under Dick Jauron and Greg Blache, Briggs is long past gratuitous hyperbole and false hype. He’s seen teammates come and go, and he’s seen the business side of his sport up close.
But there is a slight smile that starts to play on his face when he talks about this team.
“It’s kind of exciting,” he says. “It’s scary, but it’s exciting. I’m smiling ear-to-ear every time I go out there with this team.”