LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) -- Quarterback Jay Cutler looks just about ready to play for the Chicago Bears. For linebacker Lance Briggs, the wait might go on.
Coach Marc Trestman is optimistic Cutler will return from an ankle injury this week against the Cleveland Browns. He was set to work with the receivers after Wednesday's walkthrough, and Trestman said the Bears will know Thursday if he's ready to start.
''We're not going to let it hang through the week,'' he said. ''The starter tomorrow has got to get the work. So we'll make that decision tomorrow.''
Cutler has missed the past four games with a high left ankle sprain and also sat out one with a groin injury. Veteran Josh McCown has played well in his place, but the Bears have repeatedly said they will go with Cutler once he's ready.
Briggs, meanwhile, has missed the past six games because of a broken shoulder, and the odds that he'll suit up against the Browns appear slim.
Briggs' return would be a huge lift for an injury-ravaged defense that can't stop the run. He was expected to sit out about six weeks after he was injured against Washington on Oct. 20, but the recovery has stretched longer.
The Bears clearly miss him.
Their defense ranks 27th overall and last against the run, and they've allowed 198 yards rushing or more in five of the past seven games.
''It's not just the intangibles that he brings in terms of leadership and experience and things like that, in confidence,'' defensive coordinator Mel Tucker said. ''But he can actually make plays. He can win one-on-one; he can get off blocks. He can run sideline to sideline. He can win one-on-one on running backs on blitzes and things like that. He's an excellent blitzer.
''In the pass game, he's quick, very instinctive. He's quick to diagnose and because of ... his experience, there's not a whole lot of plays he hasn't seen at some point in time.''
Whether the Bears have missed Cutler is open to debate, the way McCown is playing.
With a 109.8 rating in seven games, McCown trails only Philadelphia's Nick Foles (120) and Denver's Peyton Manning (114.5), and his performance in Monday's romp over Dallas might have been his best yet.
He became the first player in franchise history with three straight 300-yard passing games, throwing for 348 yards and a career-high four touchdowns. He also ran for one, getting spun like a helicopter as he leaped into the end zone, and the Bears scored on their first eight possessions to jump back into the playoff race.
They're tied with Detroit for the NFC North lead at 7-6, although the Lions swept them for the tiebreaker, and there have been some calls for the Bears to stick with the hot hand at quarterback.
After all, McCown has thrown for more than 1,800 yards and completed nearly 67 percent of his passes. He has 13 touchdowns and just one interception, but Cutler's numbers aren't shabby, either.
He's thrown for just over 1,900 yards, and his 88.4 rating is the highest since he arrived from Denver before the 2009 season. The message the past few weeks has been consistent.
Trestman and McCown have repeatedly said Cutler will start when he's ready. It could be this week.
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