Lance Briggs Shows He's the Bears' Best

The 2007 season was supposed to be Lance Briggs' last in a Bears uniform. He had signed a contract for one last year, and all sides agreed that he'd be a free agent in the spring of 2008 and move on to greener pastures.

So it was a bit of a surprise when the NFL free agency period began and the Bears gave Briggs a six-year, $36 million contract to keep him in Chicago. But the Bears' win over the Detroit Lions on Sunday was a reminder of why the Bears forked over enough money to keep him: Bears coach Lovie Smith knows that Briggs is the perfect outside linebacker in his defense, and Briggs is the Bears' best player.

Briggs finished the day with a game-high 10 tackles, and his first one demonstrated what a versatile player he is. The Lions had a first-and-10 near midfield, and when Lions quarterback Dan Orlovsky dropped back to pass, Briggs dropped about 15 yards deep into coverage, and Orlovsky made a good read against the Bears' deep coverage and hit wide receiver Shaun McDonald with a short pass over the middle. Briggs closed on it quickly to make an open-field tackle on McDonald, essentially acting as another safety on the field and showing the kind of quickness that very few 240-pound linebackers possess. Smith's defense calls on the linebackers to have deep coverage responsibilities, and when it comes to coverage deep downfield, Briggs is one of the best linebackers in the business.

Briggs also showed against the Lions that he's excellent at stopping the run. On a first-and-10 in the third quarter, Briggs was lined up right next to Brian Urlacher in a defensive alignment in which the Bears essentially had two middle linebackers on the field. When the handoff went to Lions running back Rudi Johnson, Briggs made a beeline for Johnson in the backfield, sidestepped Lions guard Stephen Peterman, and brought Johnson down for no gain. The play revealed that Briggs doesn't only have the speed to get into the backfield in a hurry and the sure tackling to bring down the ball carrier, he also has the intelligence to recognize where the offense is going. He's the complete package.

And Briggs saved his best against the Lions for the fourth quarter. With the Bears clinging to a 27-23 lead and the Lions driving into Bears territory with two and a half minutes to play, Orlovsky completed a short pass to tight end Michael Gaines. Briggs had dropped into coverage, and as he saw Gaines make the catch, he zeroed in and played it perfectly. Noticing that Gaines was holding the ball in his inside hand -- even though players are taught to hold the ball in their outside hands -- Briggs drove his helmet directly into the ball, knocking it free. Briggs then pounced on it to get the Bears the ball back just before the two-minute warning. It was the Bears' biggest play of the day.

Briggs hasn't always been a happy camper in Chicago, and if history is any guide, he'll start complaining about his contract long before the six-year deal has expired. But the Bears were wise to lock him up to a long-term deal. He's the player who makes the defense run.

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