LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Lance Briggs sure doesn’t look like he’s slowing down.
The Bears’ Pro Bowl linebacker still has plenty of spring in his step, and that was clear during Monday’s game at Dallas.
Briggs hit the pedal when he picked off Tony Romo, returning an interception 74 yards for a touchdown, and Chicago’s defense again went full throttle in a 34-18 victory.
For all the questions surrounding an aging core, that unit has for the most part kept its foot on the gas so far. They’ll try to keep it there against an offense that ranks at the bottom when they visit Jacksonville (1-3) this week.
“We’re going to play how we play because we’re the star football players that we are,” Briggs said. “I love to play the game at a high level, and I want to play this game at a high level as long as we can play it.”
The Bears’ defense was certainly in gear against the Cowboys, picking off Tony Romo five times in a dominant performance. Two of those interceptions were returned for touchdowns, with Charles Tillman taking one 25 yards in the second quarter and Briggs running his back in the third to make it 24-7.
It happened after defensive tackle Henry Melton hit Romo as he apparently tried to deliver a shovel pass. The ball popped out to Briggs, and he burst through a crowd, outrunning everybody on the way to the end zone.
It was a play that possibly could have been ruled a fumble. Briggs, however, insisted it wasn’t. Either way, it was his fifth touchdown and first interception for a score since 2005, and the Bears (3-1) were still talking about that play on Thursday.
“Man, he took off,” defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said. “Great play. Great ball skills, and we had so many guys turn and try to block, which is important.”
He called Briggs “an extremely gifted athlete” and “truly one of the great ‘backers.”
It’s hard to argue, considering he became just the fourth Bears linebacker to make seven straight Pro Bowls last season, joining Hall of Famers Dick Butkus, Bill George and Mike Singletary. He led the Bears with 147 tackles and got a renegotiated contract that runs through 2014.
Clearly, Chicago was depending on him. The question was: Could he keep it up? And, for that matter, could Tillman, Julius Peppers and Brian Urlacher?
All four players are in their 30s. Urlacher still is trying to shake off a knee injury and isn’t quite wreaking his usual havoc. But so far, the rest of the defense is holding up. And it’s not just the core players doing their part.
The Bears are getting big contributions from the defensive line and areas of the secondary that were major question marks.
They lead the league in interceptions (11) and takeaways (14), and their 15 sacks trail only Arizona and Cincinnati with 16 apiece. Cornerback Tim Jennings already has a career-high four interceptions to lead the NFL, not to mention six pass breakups, two of which led to touchdowns for other players.
Then, there’s Briggs still going strong with 27 tackles and four pass breakups even though he’s in his 10th season and turns 32 next month.
“Best outside linebacker in the NFL. He does it every week,” Urlacher said. “He shows up. He makes big plays. He stresses me out sometimes because he moves around so much before the snap, I don’t know if he’s going to end up in the right spots. But he always does, makes big plays, tackles for losses. He’s always there.”
He was certainly in the right spot against Dallas, when Melton hit Romo. Then, he showed just how much power he has left in his legs.
“I guess I was just a really old guy, on his last leg,” Briggs joked.
Well, not quite. And even if he slows a bit, Marinelli said Briggs has the know-how to remain productive.
“Guys with brightness and understanding will usually play at that same high level (a long time),” Marinelli said.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.
(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)