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The Urlacher era in Chicago is now officially over.

After 13 seasons in a Bears uniform, linebacker Brian Urlacher is retiring from the NFL. He announced his decision on his Twitter account on Wednesday.

"After spending a lot of time this spring thinking about my NFL future, I have made a decision to retire," Urlacher said. "Although I could continue playing, I'm not sure I would bring a level of performance or passion that's up to my standards. When considering this, along with the fact that I could retire after a 13-year career wearing only one jersey for such a storied franchise, my decision became pretty clear.

"I want to thank all of the people in my life that have helped me along the way. I will miss my teammates, my coaches and the great Bears fans. I'm proud to say that I gave all of yo everything I had every time I took the field. I will miss this great game, but I leave it with no regrets."

General manager Jerry Angelo said that the Bears have red flags now that they have lost six of seven games entering this afternoon's meeting with the St. Louis Rams.

But he's not panicking at this point, and vowed to fix the mess the 4-7 club has fallen into during a season that began with such huge expectations.

Speaking with WBBM play-by-play voice Jeff Joniak on the station's pregame show, Angelo addressed some of the issues plaguing the team. He was not asked about the status of coach Lovie Smith, who is 20-23 since losing Super Bowl XLI.

"We do have red flags,'' Angelo said in the interview. "Those flags were made by us. There will be some inventory like there is at the end of the year, there will be plenty enough time for that. Right now, I want to focus on the now, this afternoon, playing good football. We're paid to win. We have 16 games. We want to win each one of those games so we want to stay focused on the season."

"[Things] are exceptionally rough and we're all disappointed given the fact that we had high expectations. There is still a glimmer of hope and we'll always play on that as long as there is. We're in a poor state right now, obviously, we need a win badly. That doesn't ever lose our focus in terms of what we have to do now."

Asked what his message to fans would be, Angelo said not to lose hope.

"I have been in this league a long, long time. Believe me, I will never live without hope,'' he said. "There might be situations that look hopeless but it certainly is not that way internally. We will come out of this better for it. I promise you that. Sometimes things don't work out according to plan. Doesn't mean the plan was bad. The plan was solid. It just didn't work. We'll go back and we'll re-visit the things that didn't work, fix the things that didn't work, and when you do that you will be better for it.

"Can I sit here and tell you exactly what? I can't do that right now. There will be time to do it. I promise this to our fans, and I know this in my heart of hearts, we will be better through this ordeal. I do promise you that, and there will always be hope. It will not be false hope."

Ron Turner heard a little something about it, and talked to Brian Urlacher on Tuesday, but can't comment on the remarks by the middle linebacker that the Bears have lost their identity on offense. Would you have expected much different?

"I hate the way our identity has changed,'' Urlacher told Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports. "We used to establish the run and wear teams down and try not to make mistakes, and we'd rely on our defense to keep us in the game and make big plays to put us in position to win. Kyle Orton might not be the flashiest quarterback, but the guy is a winner, and that formula worked for us. I hate to say it, but that's the truth."

Urlacher made some other comments to Silver, like questioning a run call in the fourth quarter when the Bears were being lambasted at Minnesota. There's certainly a lot of truth in what he said, but airing it in a public fashion with the Bears 4-7 and having lost six of their last seven games only makes it appear, at least from the outside looking in, that things are coming apart at Halas Hall.

"I can't comment on that because I didn't see. I heard that he said something, I haven't seen it, I haven't read it, I'm not exactly sure what he said,'' said Turner. "I talked to Brian yesterday. I think he's got a lot of confidence in us, he's a team guy and again whatever he said, he said, but yeah, do we want to run the ball more? Yeah, there's no question about it, we want to run the ball more and better, and I have to give our guys a chance to do that, and sometimes the game dictates what you do and where you go, and that's kind of been the case this year a little bit."

Matt Forte claimed he had no idea what Brian Urlacher said to Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports over the weekend when the linebacker was critical of the Bears' running game, and said the Bears have lost their identity on offense.

"We've got to do a lot of things,'' Forte said. "We've got to make people miss, we've got to block people, we've got to do a lot of things. It's not one particular thing that is hampering the offense. We're hurting ourselves most of the time.

"Urlacher has his own opinion. If I couldn't make anybody miss, I probably wouldn't be playing pro football.''

Forte. who set a franchise rookie record with 1,238 yards rushing last season, has only 543 yards and three rushing touchdowns through 11 games.

"It's frustrating,'' he said. "But you can't harp on being frustrated because it carries over into other games. Then, you'll be focused on being frustrated instead of being out there and trying to do things right on the field.

"When you don't get rushing opportunities as a running back, you have to try to impact somewhere else.''

Jay Cutler said he has spoken with Brian Urlacher since the linebacker shared his thoughts on lots of things related to the Bears with Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports, but was clear that Urlacher didn't owe him an apology for anything.

Urlacher was critical of the Bears' identity as a football team, and specifically an offense.

"Look, I love Jay, and I understand he's a great player who can take us a long way, and I still have faith in him," Urlacher told Silver. "But I hate the way our identity has changed. We used to establish the run and wear teams down and try not to make mistakes, and we'd rely on our defense to keep us in the game and make big plays to put us in position to win. Kyle Orton might not be the flashiest quarterback, but the guy is a winner, and that formula worked for us. I hate to say it, but that's the truth."

Said Cutler: "He doesn't have to apologize to me. I talked to him. I understand what he's talking about. It's frustrating. It's frustrating for everybody in that locker room. So I know where he's coming from."

ON THE PLANE IN MINNEAPOLIS--Brian Urlacher wasn't a happy camper watching the Bears' 36-10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.

Mike Silver of Yahoo! Sports hung out with the linebacker, who still has a cast on his surgically repaired wrist, and discovered what it's like to take in a game with the face of the franchise, a guy who hasn't been around this season.

"Look, I love Jay, and I understand he's a great player who can take us a long way, and I still have faith in him," Urlacher told Silver. "But I hate the way our identity has changed. We used to establish the run and wear teams down and try not to make mistakes, and we'd rely on our defense to keep us in the game and make big plays to put us in position to win. Kyle Orton might not be the flashiest quarterback, but the guy is a winner, and that formula worked for us. I hate to say it, but that's the truth."

The Bears have slumped to 4-7 this season with Urlacher missing all but the first half of the opener at Green Bay. Urlacher seemed disappointed in the offense, or the play calling in the fourth quarter when Matt Forte got one of his eight carries.

Jay Cutler is being punished for being bad.

But it has nothing to do with his performance on the field.

The NFL has fined the Bears quarterback $20,000 for abuse of a game official. Cutler drew a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct for arguing with officials during the loss to Arizona on Sunday at Soldier Field. Lovie Smith talks about how the Bears are a disciplined football team, and how the rash of penalties lately--the team had 10 for 75 yards Thursday night at San Francisco--are out of the ordinary.

This marks the second consecutive season, though, that a team captain has been fined that amount by the league for that infraction. Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher was also fined $20,000 by the NFL last season after being penalized at Atlanta for the same thing. NFL officials are taught to be careful when penalizing players for unsportsmanlike conduct. Coaches and players can get away with saying a lot. It's not like Major League Baseball where quick-trigger umpires will boot players over the slightest thing.

The Bears may discover later today the fate of Pisa Tinoisamoa, who re-injured his right knee in Sunday's loss at Atlanta.

Tinoisamoa left the field on a cart and admitted he wasn't in good shape after the game as he hobbled around the locker room. He underwent an MRI on Monday, and is believed to have a damaged meniscus.

Whether or not the veteran strong-side linebacker can return this season depends on the seriousness of the injury. If it's a minor tear, he could have surgery and be back up and running in a few weeks. He missed three games with a torn posterior cruciate ligament. If the injury is more serious, he could be looking at possible microfracture surgery, and that would unquestionably wipe out his season.

All indications are that Hunter Hillenmeyer did not suffered a fractured rib in Sundays victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

Hillenmeyer was originally injured on a run play in the second quarter, and then he tried to continue playing before taking two more hits in the same area on his torso.

He was examined at Qwest Field, and in cases like this the team always gives the player an X-ray. Following the game, a source said the injury was not that serious, and coach Lovie Smith backed that up today at his press conference.

"We'll see how that plays out the rest of the week, hopefully he'll be able to go [Sunday vs. Detroit],'' Smith said. ``It isn't as serious as [tight end Desmond Clark's] injury, so hopefully we'll get good news on that front.''

Clark suffered a fractured rib in the opener at Green Bay, but he returned to practice for limited duty on Friday, and it's his hope that he will play vs. the Lions after missing just two weeks. Still, the Bears are going to have to consider adding some help at the position. They are razor thin at linebacker. Pisa Tinoisamoa will probably test out his sprained right knee in practice this week, and there is a possibility he will return to action against Detroit. Like Clark, he was injured in the opener. But when Hillenmeyer went down, the Bears were left with only one reserve linebacker--recently signed Tim Shaw. Nick Roach moved from strong side to the middle, and Jamar Williams took over at strong side.


The 2009 NFL schedule was released April 14, 12 days after the Bears completed their trade with the Denver Broncos to acquire quarterback Jay Cutler, a move that sparked tremendous expectations for the team.

The season opener at Green Bay followed by the home opener this afternoon with the Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers looked like a formidable start for all those not sipping the Kool Aid. Now, after a rough loss at Lambeau Field that has the Bears making four changes in the starting lineup on defense, two necessitated by injuries, the Bears know how important it is to avoid an 0-2 start. A loss to the Steelers could put the Bears two behind the Packers and fellow NFC North foe Minnesota. Green Bay hosts Cincinnati (0-1) and the Vikings, which also won their opener, are at Detroit (0-1) where the Lions will try to avoid their 19th straight defeat.

The statistics are daunting as well. Three of the 10 teams that started 0-2 last season--Miami, Minnesota and San Diego--reached the playoffs. But that kind of success is rare. Since 2000, nine of the 78 teams that started 0-2 reached the postseason (11.5 percent). Since the league went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, 30 teams that have started 0-2 made the playoffs, including three Super Bowl winners (1993 Dallas, 2001 New England and 2007 New York Giants). That's one a year. Finally, the Bears, the cornerstone franchise of the league, have never made the playoffs after an 0-2 start. Add in the fact that next week's game is at Seattle where the Bears are 1-4 all-time with their last win coming in 1976, the first year of existence for the expansion Seahawks, and this game takes on an added significance if you believe in looking ahead.

Enough with the numbers. Let's get to it. What are keys for the Bears to be successful?

1. The Steelers have been getting some heat for some time. Why don't they run the football more? What happened to the fullback? The fact is, Bruce Arians runs a passing offense that suits his personnel. But after failing to generate any kind of ground game in the opener, the Steelers are going to try to establish success early vs. the Bears. They flat ran over them the last time the teams played in 2005. That was a different offensive line with a different back running behind it in Jerome Bettis. This line outweighs the Bears' front by an average of 47 pounds. The Bears have to stop the run because if Pittsburgh is two-dimensional, Ben Roethlisberger will be very difficult to stop.

2. Be like Hunter. It will be interesting to see if there are subtle differences in the scheme with Hunter Hillenmeyer replacing Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker. He knows he can't try to be like Brian. He's not that player. I detailed here for the National Football Post how the change could affect the Bears when it comes to the blitz. The good news for the Bears is Hillenmeyer is probably a better middle linebacker than he is a strong-side linebacker, the position he started at for most of four seasons. The blitz will be key because the Steelers use a spread attack that forces the linemen to play in space. There will be opportunities to pressure Roethlisberger.

3. Safety dance. Lovie Smith was itching to get Danieal Manning in at free safety before training camp started. A pulled hamstring delayed that move. Now, Manning is in position. It's the 18th change in starting free safeties since Smith came on board in 2004. There have been 15 changes at strong safety. Hey, the Bears finally found a position to switch more often than starting quarterback. There is a chart of all the turnover during Smith's era here. Manning needs to curtail some of the glaring assignment errors that have marked his time at the position in the past. The wide open touchdown by Andre Johnson in the season finale last year at Houston comes to mind. The issue here is the team didn't use him at safety once during the offseason. He missed significant time in training camp with a pulled hamstring and he'll be going off classroom instruction more than anything else.

Any time a veteran player suffers an injury that wipes out virtually an entire season, and he's on the wrong side of 30, it's worth examining the financial impact moving forward.

No one is suggesting Brian Urlacher, who is 31, is in danger because of his salary. But the middle linebacker received a unique one-year contract extension last summer. I say unique because it's rare for a player to have one year tacked on to his contract when still has four years remaining on his current contract. That's what happened though, and it was a tense few months as Urlacher dug in his heels and the organization wondered exactly what path it was headed down with the face of the franchise.

In the end, Urlacher received an $18 million, one-year extension through 2012 with $6 million guaranteed in the form of a signing bonus. Let's take a look at his remaining base salaries:

Age 31 2009 $5.625 million
Age 32 2010 $6.825 million
Age 33 2011 $8.025 million
Age 34 2012 $7.5 million

That's $27.975 million, including the pay he will receive this season. In today's NFL, that's in line with what elite veterans receive. Original negotiations for Urlacher last spring offered him the signing bonus, the $7.5 million in base pay for 2012, and then $1 million in the form of a likely to be earned bonus each season from 2008 through 2011. Urlacher just had to play in 85 percent of the defensive snaps each season to trigger the bonus. Negotiations dragged on, Urlacher threatened to miss minicamp (he didn't) and training camp. It didn't come to that as the team acquiesced in mid-July and simply tacked an extra $1 million on each season without a play-time provision. Urlacher was all smiles, the club was relieved and life moved on.


The question has come in multiple e-mails, via Twitter, text message and personal e-mails.

Why can't Brian Urlacher heal up a little after surgery this morning, get a cast put on his right wrist and return to action in a month or so? It's a good question, and a fair question.

Cornerback Nathan Vasher and linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer both underwent wrist surgeries last season and returned to action. Vasher took a little longer than anyone expected, but still 1 1/2 months would be far better than losing the middle linebacker for the season. Heck, having him return for the second half of the season would be a huge boost. But it's not possible after he was placed on season-ending injured reserve to make room for Tim Shaw, who agreed to terms on a one-year contract and will sign the deal Tuesday pending a physical.

The reason Urlacher was placed on IR is because of the bone he injured. He dislocated the lunate bone, according to the Bears, and that is the bone that is at the center of the wrist, at the middle of the eight bones. It holds the wrist together, and the risk in not treating the injury immediately, or coming back before the injury is completely healed is significant. It could lead to permanent nerve damage and that could affect Urlacher's hand long term.


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