Safety First

They say there's safety in numbers. The Bears only need one -- free safety Mike Brown.

  The second-year pro has played like a seasoned veteran all season. He seems to always be at the right place at the right time, and he's quickly establishing himself as one of the game's great young players.

   "You talk about (Tennessee's) Blaine Bishop and (Hall of Famer) Ronnie Lott, those guys are great safeties," Brown said. "I hear Blaine's name a lot -- from the hype and our (comparable) size. Blaine's a guy I watch because he's similar to the way I play.

   "If you mention my name with those guys, I take that as a compliment. But on the same token, you have a lot to live up to if people are saying that."

   Brown has shown flashes of such greatness already this season. He picked off a tipped Tim Couch pass Sunday returning it for a touchdown in overtime, giving the Bears a 27-21 victory and their sixth straight win. Chicago became the first team in NFL history to win back-to-back games in overtime. A week earlier Brown took a Jeff Garcia pass back the other way, sending the Bears to a 37-31 overtime victory.

   Two weeks earlier, he stripped Arizona running back Michael Pittman and watched cornerback R.W. McQuarters sprint 69 yards to score in the Bears' 20-13 win. And against Atlanta on Oct. 7, Brown picked off a pass and went 33 yards, setting up a field-goal attempt.

   Last season, Brown ranked second on the team in tackles (102) and was a unanimous all-rookie selection. He was the only Bears' rookie in 2000 -- not Brian Urlacher -- to start all 16 games. He became just the team's seventh rookie since 1974 to record over 100 tackles in a season.

   "It's all confidence," Brown said. "Whenever you have experience, at least a year of it, you seem to get better. I think overall my play has improved just because I'm reacting more than thinking.

   "That has been the key for me."    Brown, one of many Nebraska alums playing in the NFL, was a steal when he lasted until the 39th pick of the second round. He thinks his size -- 5-foot-10, 202 pounds -- had something to do with it.

   But then again, he thinks size is something that gives him an edge on Sundays.

   "I think my lack of height helps," Brown said. "People say (being short) is a disadvantage, but it's an advantage because I can get underneath guys. It gives me a stronger base to make hits and tackles."

   Brown admits he went through the school of hard knocks last season as a rookie, getting used to playing in the NFL and learning new schemes.

   "Last year, it was definitely more learning than anything," Brown said. "Now that I have a little experience, it's a little easier for me and I'm more relaxed. I don't have all that pressure on me to perform."

   The Bears defense is on pace to give last year's Baltimore Ravens defense a run for its money. In seven games, Chicago has allowed  points (13.6 ppg), while the Ravens' mark was 75 (10.7 ppg) in that same stretch.

   Urlacher gets a lot of the attention, but when you look at last year's draft, you can't forget about the guy that was picked after him. The Bears sure haven't.

   "Mike's definitely an achiever," Bears coach Dick Jauron said. "He's a very smart and aware guy. He has a good feel for the game so he reacts very quickly.

   "He's got toughness and the intangibles that I would never sell short. You might say he's a little short and a little light, but he's got all the physical tools."    To be one of the best.

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