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Bears LB Briggs not slowing down

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Bears LB Briggs not slowing down

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.

Notes: The Bears held Peppers out of Thursday's practice because of an ankle injury, while Urlacher (coach's decision) and FB Evan Rodriguez (knee) also sat out. RB Matt Forte (ankle) and WR Earl Bennett (hand) were limited participants.

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Big money John Carlson isn't going anywhere

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Capitals Faceoff Podcast: Big money John Carlson isn't going anywhere

John Carlson isn't going anywhere.

Carlson wanted to stay in Washington, but he wasn't going to come cheap. The Capitals ponied up the cash, however, and signed their star defenseman to a big-time, big-money deal worth $64 million that will make him a Capital for the next eight years.

JJ Regan and Tarik El-Bashir talk about his new contract, the trade that made it happen and take a look ahead to this week's development camp.

Check out their latest episode in the player below or listen on the Capitals Faceoff Podcast page.

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Around the NL East: All teams are leaving wins on the table

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Around the NL East: All teams are leaving wins on the table

After a week that gave several teams the opportunity to prove themselves in the National League East, the only team that did so was the Miami Marlins.

They aren’t as bad as we thought they were.

As for everyone else, each fan base should be disappointed.

The Atlanta Braves missed a golden opportunity to pull away from both the Washington Nationals and the Philadelphia Phillies. Instead, they actually lost ground to BOTH teams that were playing each other.

Philadelphia did leapfrog the Nationals in the standings, but they continue to leave wins on the table due to their bullpen. This is all while Washington went 4-4 on an eight-game homstand.

And if you’re the Mets, I need to say no more in regards to disappointment. Look out because the Marlins are now on your tail.

Atlanta Braves

Record: 44-32
Last 10: 6-4
Upcoming Series: vs. Cincinnati (3), @ St. Louis (3)

It is hard to take a team seriously when they lose two out of three to the Baltimore Orioles in their home park.

Both were in demoralizing ways. First, Sean Newcomb went seven innings allowing only a single run, then two relievers gave up a combined six runs in the ninth. Despite a comeback in the ninth, they wouldn’t eventually fall in the 15th (!) inning.

And yes… we can attest, this sucks…

Second was Julio Teheran allowing four to score before Atlanta even got an at-bat. There was a wistful rally for the rest of the game, but ultimately they came up two runs short.

Missing on a golden opportunity to emerge as the frontrunner in the NL East, the Braves dropped the ball. Once excited for a finalized rotation to be back together, there are still some gaps to fill. The team averaged 6.8 runs this week and managed only two wins.

And still no Robert Acuna Jr.

Philadelphia Phillies

Record: 41-34
Last 10: 7-3
Upcoming Series: vs. New York Yankees (3), vs. Washington Nationals (4)

Winning series will get you in the postseason. Taking two-out-of-three over the St. Louis Cardinals and the Nationals gives them four straight series wins.

None of those series victories were bigger than taking two at Nats Park.

In those six games Odùbel Herrera had 12 hits, four home runs, nine RBIs for a .444 average. He is leading the charge for a team that scored 39 runs in only six games.

Their starters are giving them quality outings as well. With each starting pitcher this week having a 1.40 WHIP or lower, there has been no downtick from them. However, all of their losses are attributed to their bullpen, including three blown saves.

On June 18, they optioned their closer Héctor Neris to Triple A after giving up four runs in two-thirds of an inning. While he did have a 6.00 ERA, and a 9.45 ERA in June, he did get the job done in the final innings of games. On 13 save opportunities this year, he got 10 saves.

They hope Seranthony Domínguez (four saves) can turn around the bullpen as they make a push to the All-Star Game.

Washington Nationals

Record: 41-35
Last 10: 3-7
Upcoming Series: @ Tampa Bay Rays (2), @ Philadelphia Phillies (4)

All things considered it wasn’t the worst week for the Nationals. Despite losing a series to Philadelphia and dropping a Gio Gonzalez start to Baltimore, Washington gained a half game on the Braves.

But, you have to demand better on an eight-game homestand. These games may be the ones that could haunt the Nats come late-August and September.

Yet there are a lot of highlights this week.

-Juan Soto retroactively hit a HR on his first-ever MLB at-bat
-The Nats pick up reliever Kelvin Herrera in a career-year
-Despite trailing by four, and a rain delay, the Nats came back

Most importantly though Bryce Harper is out of his funk.

…and the fire is back, which may be the most important headline this week.

New York Mets

Record: 31-44
Last 10: 3-7
Upcoming Series: vs. Pirates (3), @ Marlins (3)

Finishing up a 10 game road trip with a 3-7 record, all the Mets needed was a return home.

Wrong, New York followed that up by getting swept by the Los Angeles Dodgers at Citi Field.

And one of those losses, just one, featured seven Dodger home runs.

Also another of the few productive players for the Mets could be heading to the DL. Centerfielder Brandon Nimmo (.283, 12 HR) took a pitch off of his hand this past weekend.

Miami Marlins

Record: 31-47
Last 10: 5-5
Upcoming Series: vs. Diamondbacks (4), vs. Mets (3)

A 3-3 West Coast road trip is not too shabby for the Marlins who are playing .500 ball in the month of June (11-10).

It gave the opportunity for Kyle Barraclough to pick up two more saves, bringing his total up to seven this season. His stellar relief performances will likely garner him the honor as the Marlins’ lone representative in the All-Star Game next month.

He’s pitched 11.2 straight innings of hitless baseball. Barraclough has also not allowed a run since May 8 (19 appearances).

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