Lacking Manpower

IRVING, Texas _ Quarterback Craig Krenzel and defensive tackle Tommie Harris were on crutches Thursday after a 21-7 Bears loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

They weren't alone. The rest of the team is starting to use them, as well -- in another sense.

"Injuries have just really hurt us this year," Bears running back Thomas Jones said. "They really hurt us on offense.

"We've had a lot of people out, a lot of key players out."

Normally players like to avoid talking about injuries as an excuse for defeats, but after seven losses in 11 games, truth began to seep into post-game comments. They didn't mind leaning on that crutch.

On Thursday, the offensive line's injuries played a big role. Starting left guard Ruben Brown didn't play with a neck stinger. Then right tackle John Tait went out with a knee sprain, which meant reserve guard Steve Edwards had to move to right tackle.

He hasn't played tackle all year. The Bears gave up a season-high six sacks and averaged 2.5 yards per carry in the game.

"It's kind of going back to last year and the last couple years," Edwards said, referring to extensive injuries the Bears incurred on the offensive line those years. "Guys have got step up and play different positions because of injuries.

"It's a tough thing to do. The injuries are starting to come and we've got to juggle guys around. It's pretty tough."

Although the Bears' defense got cornerback Charles Tillman back Thursday, they, too, said they felt the injury pinch.

They've been feeling it, with Brian Urlacher sidelined due to calf surgery.

"I don't want to just put it on that because we have guys who can play the position," Bears defensive end Alex Brown said. "I mean, but if we had him, it would make it a lot easier. We've got guys out there who are trying their best, who are trying to get the job done."

Without Urlacher Thursday, Cowboys running back Julius Jones poured right up the middle for a 33-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and went on to 150 yards on 33 carries. Without Urlacher last week, the Bears gave up 204 yards to the Colts' Edgerrin James.

They had come into the game giving up 175 yards on the ground per game in three games without Urlacher, and allowed 154 more Thursday. They are 4-3 with Urlacher in the lineup and 0-4 without him this year.

"We can't say we don't need him," Brown said. "We should be able to play without him for the last week, but if we would have had him it would have made a difference."

Now they have more injuries on defense to worry about. Harris suffered a sprained right ankle. The offense lost Krenzel to a right ankle sprain.

With a 4-7 record and injuries mounting, Bears coach Lovie Smith said he's still not about to call it quits and turn the final five games into developing new talent.

"We felt 10-6, as I said earlier, would still get us in," Smith said. "Nine-and-seven, there's still a chance as well, so we still have a lot to play for.

"Development will come into play in any given year when we are out of the playoff, if we are that. That's not the case right now. We're still in a mode to win and put the best possible team on the field to win that next week."

It's just that there are fewer and fewer players of starting caliber to put out there on that field.

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