Bears’ Brown pins problems on loss of Urlacher

As the Chicago Bears wind down their disappointing season,

defensive end Alex Brown isn’t thinking about the players who might

be on their way out.

His mind is on the one who went down.

The Bears lost star middle linebacker Brian Urlacher to a

dislocated right wrist in the opener at Green Bay, setting a bad

tone for a team that had high expectations but is 6-9 heading into

the final game at Detroit. Even so, Brown insisted he sees enough

talent to compete again, particularly if the guy wearing No. 54 is

healthy.

“It’s not the same team, but I still believe we have core

players here that can still play and play at a high level,” he

said. “This year, I don’t think people really understand just how

important 54 is. But at the same point, I haven’t talked about it a

whole lot because Hunter (Hillenmeyer) and Nick (Roach) have done a

great job. But having 54, that means a lot. And I think if you

bring it up during the season, people tend to say that it’s an

excuse. Take Peyton Manning off Indianapolis and let’s see what

happens. We’ll have him back and I think we’ll be a different

defense and different team next year.”

The Bears thought they would be a different team this year, with

the arrival of rocket-armed quarterback Jay Cutler from Denver in a

trade that launched sky high optimism.

Instead, they fell apart after a 3-1 start and missed the

playoffs for the third straight year, sparking speculation about

coach Lovie Smith’s job status along with general manager Jerry

Angelo’s. They can point to Cutler’s interceptions, poor blocking,

the lack of a running game and some poor execution on defense. And,

of course, they can point to the absence of Urlacher, the six-time

Pro Bowler who appeared to be in better shape after being limited

in recent seasons by neck and back problems.

He looked like his old self when he lowered his shoulder and

plowed over Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers in the first quarter

of the opener. And then, he was finished.

He came up shaking his hand after tackling the Packers’ Ryan

Grant later in the quarter and played until halftime with a

dislocated lunate bone that required pins to be surgically

inserted, a major blow for a team that hasn’t made the playoffs

since that Super Bowl run three years ago.

“He’s a great player,” said Hillenmeyer, who has started 11 of

the past 14 games at middle linebacker. “Teams lose great players

all the time. You’re using Peyton Manning as an example, but take

some defensive guys. Take the Steelers without Troy Polamalu. Take

Baltimore with and without Ed Reed or Ray Lewis. There are only a

handful of guys like that in the league. Brian’s one of them.”

So no, Brown’s comment didn’t offend him.

“That seems like an obvious thing to say,” Hillenmeyer said.

“He is a future Hall of Famer. Him saying that is certainly not

going to hurt my feelings, to say that you miss a guy who’s gone to

the Pro Bowl almost every year he’s been in the league and been

healthy. That just seems like stating the obvious to me.”

What’s less clear is where the Bears go from here.

Besides the speculation about Smith and Angelo, not to mention

offensive coordinator Ron Turner, there are glaring issues on both

sides of the ball. Even after good seasons, there’s change. And the

Bears were anything but this year.

If they don’t overhaul the roster, are the Bears good enough to

compete even with a healthy Urlacher? Angelo said at Baltimore two

weeks ago that they are, even if the record doesn’t look good.

Even if the playoff hopes died a long time ago. And even if the

Bears didn’t resemble the team they thought they would be until

Monday night, when they beat Brett Favre and the Minnesota Vikings

36-30 in overtime after blowing a 16-0 halftime lead.

Was it too late? Yes.

But at least the Bears have a chance to end the season with two

straight wins, even if that’s little consolation.

“We have to build on how we played last week because the thing

about us is we haven’t been consistent,” defensive tackle Anthony

Adams said. “To win two games in a row, that’s showing progress.

That’s showing that we can be consistent.”

NOTES: WR Devin Hester (calf) and S Kevin Payne (ankle) went

through a full practice on Thursday after being limited the

previous day. Hester has missed the past three games.