Considering how well seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker Lance Briggs has played this season and how poorly almost everyone else on defense has performed, his loss might be more difficult to overcome than quarterback Jay Cutler's.
"He's the best linebacker in the league if you ask me, by far," said special teams standout Blake Costanzo, who took over for Briggs after he suffered a fractured left shoulder Sunday in Washington's 45-41 home victory. "Just him being out there, his play-making ability, everything about him we're going to miss. (But) like he would say, 'Someone else has to step up,' and we've got to continue to play. We've got a lot of games, a long season left ahead of us."
Briggs will miss most of what's left in a season that has been historically bad for a Bears defense that is allowing 29.4 points per game and is on pace to allow a franchise-worst 470 points. In his 11th season, Briggs leads the Bears in tackles (67), tackles for loss (9), is tied for the lead with 2 sacks and is second with 5 pass breakups.
Cornerback Charles Tillman, like Briggs, did not play in the fourth quarter against Washington. He is considered "week to week," with swelling in his right knee but could be back for the next game -- against the Packers at Lambeau Field on Nov. 4.
"We're losing a great leader in Lance," said Bears coach Marc Trestman. "We're going to have to work very, very hard to recover, but that doesn't say we can't. It's been done before. We've got time to work through it, and there's no reason why, as a football team, we can't be confident that we can rally around that position and find a way to win games."
There is no one on the Bears' roster who can come close to replacing Briggs. Against Washington, rookie Jon Bostic had to start at middle linebacker because D.J. Williams suffered a season-ending chest injury in Week Six -- and Bostic struggled in his first NFL start. There's no way he won't struggle even more without Briggs and his leadership, experience and productivity lining up next to him.
Rookie Khaseem Greene, who was drafted in the fourth round, two rounds after Bostic, is listed as Briggs' backup on the depth chart. But against Washington, the Bears went with the more experienced Costanzo. With almost two weeks until they play the Packers, there's enough time to get Greene up to speed. But that would leave what has been a team strength for the past decade looking very suspect with two rookies starting.
"We'll sit down and get a plan together," Trestman said. "I can't answer it right now, but I'll be able to answer (about Greene starting) in the next few days as we proceed with putting this thing together."
That decision might not be announced until late next week.
"It'll be whoever practices the best and presents the best option for the Chicago Bears to win football games," general manager Phil Emery said.
The Bears are likely to bring in a veteran off the NFL scrap heap for depth, but it's unlikely they'll get anyone who can step in and help. That includes Brian Urlacher, Briggs' perennial Pro Bowl running mate for the past decade.
"Brian's retirement papers came in about three or four weeks before the season started," Emery said, "and he received termination pay, so I would say that's nil."
Another question the Bears must answer is who replaces Briggs as the defensive signalcaller. In most cases it's the middle linebacker, but strong-side linebacker James Anderson has eight years of experience and probably is the better choice over Bostic.
"Probably either guy could make those calls and certainly be sufficient," Trestman said.
"Sufficient," isn't ideal, but it might be the best the Bears can hope for in the near future.
•Tight end Steve Maneri was waived to make room on the roster for backup quarterback Jordan Palmer, and the Bears terminated the practice-squad contract of wide receiver Ricardo Lockette.