Want an honest answer about the Bears' 5-9 season?
Just ask Lance Briggs, the team's best, and probably only, chance for a Pro Bowl representative this year. He's obviously bitter about the team's lost season, and he's not terribly impressed with his own contributions.
While others may lament the Bears' chronically poor first quarters, when they've been outscored 93-30, Briggs sees the bigger and more painful picture.
"I think we have difficulty in a lot of quarters this year," he said. "I guess we could start with the first quarter, but let's put all four quarters together, and we have eight of them left. So we need to put eight good quarters of football together."
On Monday night, Briggs and the Bears have an ideal stage on which to begin a late-season resurgence, if for no other reason than pride. They'll receive national exposure in a prime-time game against the 11-3 Vikings, who have already clinched their second straight NFC North title. But Briggs says it'll take more than a good game against a superior team to alter the public perception of the Bears.
"I don't think that we're going to change the image of this team by this one game," Briggs said. "But we can feel better about ourselves and feel better about what we're doing and where we're headed by coming out and winning. (Then) when you turn on NFL Live or Inside the NFL, they're going to say, 'This team found a way to win.' But I think it's more for us, and the fact that it's a nationally televised game can help."
Unlike the Bears, Briggs personally hasn't had any problem stringing together good quarters, good games and good seasons. If he's voted to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday, it will be for the fifth straight time. Last year he became just the 17th player in franchise history to make it four years in a row.
According to NFL statistics, which are less generous in awarding tackles, Briggs has an even 100, which is 23rd in the league. And according to STATS, Inc., Briggs had 44.5 stuffs (tackle of a runner for negative yardage) in the previous six seasons, more than any linebacker in the NFL and second among all players.
He has led or tied for the team lead in tackles in 10 of the 13 games he's played this year, and he's hit double figures seven times, including 14 tackles last week against the Ravens and a season-best 17 against the 49ers last month.
For the season, Briggs has been credited by the Bears with 127 tackles, 45 more than runner-up Hunter Hillenmeyer. Since becoming a full-time starter is 2004, his second season, Briggs has never had fewer than 136 tackles.
But the former third-round pick out of Arizona, is not impressed with his performance this season.
"I don't play well every week, to be honest with you," Briggs said. "I don't feel I've played well enough for us to win games. If me or the linebackers grade out well, and it wasn't good enough (to win), then there was something else we could have done. We could have got a ball out. We could have got a pick. That's really the mentality that you've got to have in this game, especially when you've played for a while and you consider yourself an elite player or a leader of a team. That's kind of what you expect of yourself."
Big plays have been down for most of the Bears this season, Briggs included, although he is in a four-way tie for third on the team with 21/2 sacks, tied for second with 7 tackles for loss and has 1 interception.
For the first time in his career, Briggs was named a team captain this year. He replaced six-time Pro Bowl middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, who suffered a season-ending dislocated wrist in Week One. That, too has been bittersweet for Briggs.
"We haven't won a lot of games since I've had the captain's 'C' patch on my jersey," he said. "I don't feel real good about being a captain right now, but that's on me and I'll reflect on that after these two games and in the off-season in preparing for next year to get better."
It's not that Briggs doesn't appreciate the honor of being a captain, but it makes him feel more responsible for this season's unmet expectations.
"I have a ton of respect for it," he said. "I had respect for it even before I had a patch on my jersey. I always said I felt like a leader on this team, I just didn't have a patch. To me it's just sad. And I'm really tired of having sad ends of the year and congratulating other guys in the league and saying, 'Good luck in the playoffs and stay healthy.' I want them to be saying that to us."