(With AP Photos.)|
By ANDREW SELIGMAN
AP Sports Writer
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - Lance Briggs understands just how thin a line the Chicago Bears are toeing at the moment.
They could easily be winless rather than unbeaten, and they just might be regrouping from a loss had Jay Cutler not delivered a perfect pass to Martellus Bennett in the closing seconds to beat the Minnesota Vikings 31-30 Sunday.
That came on the heels of a season-opening win over Cincinnati in which they rallied from 11 down in the second half.
That line between 2-0 and 0-2?
``It's minute, very, very small,'' Briggs said on Monday. ``In those critical situations, a guy could just as easily gotten his hand up, come through that line, gotten a sack, disrupted the throw, or the throw be a little to the left or right, and we lose that game.''
The linebacker said the Bears are ``starting to create an identity,'' and resilient is looking like a good description.
That doesn't mean they're a polished bunch. It would help if they got more from their pass rush, starting this week at Pittsburgh, and that largely hinges on a healthy Julius Peppers.
He's been a nonfactor so far and the Bears have just two sacks so far. Peppers sat out some preseason practices because of a hamstring issue, and he was sent home from the Bears' facility last week because of flu symptoms, missing practice on Thursday.
He played against the Vikings, but coach Marc Trestman said he was probably feeling worse than he did in the days leading up to the game.
``I don't know that he had the energy to play as hard as he possibly could play,'' Trestman said. ``I thought he was involved, he ran some plays down, but overall, in his defense I think that he wasn't getting better at the time. He was still not ascending, and he didn't look well to me this morning when I saw him in the meeting as well.''
He said the wet conditions hindered the pass rush and that it will improve with Peppers healthy. That issue aside, there are plenty of positives the Bears can take from the first two games.
Cutler has been sacked just once behind a rebuilt line. The Bears are getting balance in the passing game with Brandon Marshall and Matt Forte at 15 catches and Bennett with 10. Devin Hester - remember him? - re-emerged as a force on kickoff returns, returning five for a team-record 249 yards against Minnesota.
All those were encouraging signs, as was this: The Bears showed again they're at least a resilient bunch even if they're not quite a finished product and that they can pull out games late.
``We've seen a unique team resiliency, an ability to keep our poise, an ability to just move onto the next play without what happened on the last play inhibiting us,'' Trestman said. ``What's exciting now is we have to do it. We don't have the help of our fans, we don't have the help of Soldier Field. We've got to go do it on our own and this will be the first week we'll have a chance to do that.''
Down six after the Vikings' Blair Walsh kicked a 22-yard field goal with just over three minutes left, the Bears didn't flinch. They took over at the 34 and quickly made their move.
Cutler capped the drive with a perfect 16-yard pass to the back shoulder of a twisting Bennett in the end zone with 10 seconds left, and Robbie Gould kicked the go-ahead extra point, keeping Chicago unbeaten and atop the NFC North.
``Our guys are playing smart,'' Trestman said. ``They're playing disciplined. And they're giving themselves a chance to win games in the fourth quarter. That's all you really want to do in the National Football League. You're seldom going to blow anybody out. You're going to have to play four quarters. And every minute counts. If you stay disciplined and stay poised and take care of the ball you've got a chance.''
NOTES: Trestman said Bennett is expected to play this week after bruising his shoulder against the Vikings. He landed hard behind the back of the end zone catching a pass in the second quarter and was in pain after the game. Trestman said Bennett had full range of motion on Monday.
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