Pro football

With Cutler, Briggs out, Bears stumble into bye

2013-10-26T17:00:00Z 2013-10-26T22:57:06Z With Cutler, Briggs out, Bears stumble into byeAndrew Seligman AP Sports Writer
October 26, 2013 5:00 pm  • 

LAKE FOREST, Ill. | Their quarterback is out. Their star linebacker is out.

The question is: Are the Bears out?

Bright spots aren't easy to find at the moment given the growing number of losses in their record and on the depth chart, particularly with quarterback Jay Cutler and Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs sidelined.

Cutler tore a groin muscle in Sunday's loss at Washington and is expected to miss at least four weeks. Briggs will likely be out about six weeks after breaking a bone in his left shoulder, and the Bears (4-3) hobbled into the bye week with that one huge question hovering over them.

Can they at least hold their ground in the tough NFC North until their stars return?

"We're a team that still has the ability to win football games," general manager Phil Emery said. "That's how I look at it."

With three losses in four games and the most important players on offense and defense missing, the outlook isn't exactly bright for Chicago at the moment.

The Bears are leaning on veteran Josh McCown with Cutler out and hoping they can find some sort of solution for a defense that was struggling even before the injuries started to add up.

The schedule when they return doesn't offer a reprieve, either. The Bears' next two games are against the teams they're trying to keep pace with in their division: a Monday night matchup against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, followed by a visit from the Detroit Lions.

The schedule softens a bit after that with Baltimore, St. Louis and Minnesota. Even so, the Bears aren't exactly locked and loaded with Cutler and Briggs out.

"I think we do have a team. I beg to differ with you," coach Marc Trestman said. "You're entitled to your opinion, but these things are going on throughout the National Football League. Players are going down throughout. You look at Green Bay. They've been playing without good players. We're confident that Josh can come in and run the team and why would anybody say, 'Why not?' after (Sunday)."

There's no arguing McCown looked good against the Redskins.

He came on in the second quarter after Cutler went down and completed 14 of 20 passes for 204 yards in his first game action since 2011. But he did it against one of the league's worst defenses. And how will he fare against a team that has time to prepare for him?

Cutler was struggling in a big way against Washington before he came up clutching the top of his left leg following a sack by 333-pound nose tackle Chris Baker with about 10 minutes left in the first half. But he was also enjoying one of his best seasons in recent memory heading into that game.

Trestman's offense was looking like a good fit. Emery insisted Cutler will be back this season, but with an expiring contract, the quarterback's future in Chicago is unclear.

He's missing time due to an injury for the fourth straight year. He's had concussions in the past, a sprained knee ligament during the conference championship game three years ago, and a broken thumb in 2011 that sent the Bears spiraling toward an 8-8 finish after a 7-3 start.

If the offense struggles, it can't count on a bailout from the defense.

Sure, Chicago is one off the league leaders with 18 takeaways, but only two teams have fewer sacks than the Bears with nine.

They lost defensive tackle Henry Melton and his replacement, Nate Collins, to season-ending knee injuries, forcing some shuffling on the defensive line. Then, middle linebacker D.J. Williams ruptured his left pectoral muscle tendon and was lost for the remainder of the year.

Nose tackle Stephen Paea has dealt with a turf toe injury. Pro Bowl cornerback Charles Tillman has dealt with groin and knee problems and couldn't finish the Washington game because his knee flared up.

Now, Briggs is out.

That means rookie Jonathan Bostic or veteran James Anderson will likely assume play-calling duties, and rookie Khaseem Greene probably will get more playing time.

It would help if Julius Peppers asserted himself. But with just one sack and three games in which he was not credited with a tackle, he really hasn't done that.

At 33, it's fair to wonder if his best days are behind him.

It also remains to be seen if the Bears will still be in contention by the time Cutler and Briggs return.

"Unfortunately, we're taking a hit right now, but we're just going to continue to grind, continue to get better, and find a way to get it done," left tackle Jermon Bushrod said.

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