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WOEFUL BEARS DEAL WITH LOSS OF RUBEN

Coping with another inept offensive showing, the Chicago Bears were ready to change quarterbacks again Friday while trying to patch up an injury-depleted line.

Veteran guard Ruben Brown, who sat out Thursday's 21-7 loss to Dallas, will undergo neck surgery and miss the remainder of the season. Tackle John Tait was listed as day to day after spraining a ligament in his right knee during Thursday's game.

And although coach Lovie Smith wouldn't divulge the plan, it was apparent the Bears are on the verge of giving No. 3 quarterback Chad Hutchinson a start. Craig Krenzel struggled before spraining his ankle and backup Jonathan Quinn played miserably again Thursday.

Smith said he planned to have his quarterback in position by Monday. The Bears don't play again until Dec. 5 against the Vikings.

"You have to say that Chad is an option of ours. We have three quarterbacks; two have played, so there's an option," Smith said.

"On our offensive line we have guys that haven't played. So we have options."

Brown, an eight-time Pro Bowl selection who started 136 games for the Bills from 1995 to 2003, signed with the Bears as a free agent. He was hurt in the previous game against the Colts.

Smith said Friday the injury was similar to one suffered by defensive back/kick returner Jerry Azumah, who had surgery for a herniated disc in his neck in August and missed two months.

"It's a big blow. Every guy that you lose right now really hurts you," Smith said. "We're thin as it is."

Rookie defensive lineman Tommy Harris also sprained his right ankle and Krenzel was on crutches Friday.

Krenzel fumbled Thursday and has 13 turnovers in six games. Quinn threw two interceptions Thursday, showing the form that led to his benching earlier in favor of Krenzel, who began the season as No. 3.

The Bears managed just 140 yards Thursday, and Krenzel and Quinn were a combined 15 of 31 for 132 yards and were sacked six times.

Hutchinson, who started nine games for the Cowboys as a rookie two years ago, was signed in September after starter Rex Grossman went down with a season-ending knee injury in the third game.

Smith said he was aware of the consequences of losing a starting quarterback even before the season began. Now he's had to deal with it for most of the season.

"You just look at any team in the league right now," Smith said. "Very few have two that they feel like really have, possibly have, starting-type ability. If your starter goes down, you're in a little bit of trouble. . . . If you get down to your third quarterback, you're in trouble and you have to make the best of that situation and you just have to regroup and go from there. That's what we've done as a team."

Saturday smarting

Indianapolis Colts center Jeff Saturday has a strained right calf and could miss a couple of weeks.

Saturday has started 75 consecutive games, but that streak could be in jeopardy against Tennessee, coach Tony Dungy said Friday. Saturday was injured during the second half of Thursday's 41-9 romp at Detroit.

Dungy said the team was still waiting for MRI results on Saturday and defensive end Josh Thomas (Orchard Park), who injured his knee in the Detroit game. Thomas also could miss a couple of weeks, Dungy said.

Around the league

Joey Harrington will remain the Lions' starting quarterback despite the offense failing to score a touchdown against the Colts' 31st-rated defense. Harrington was pulled during Thursday's 41-9 loss to Indianapolis in favor of Mike McMahon.

Minnesota Vikings center Matt Birk will miss at least four games after undergoing sports hernia surgery for the second time in four months.

The St. Louis Rams made a move to shore up shaky special teams, releasing punter Sean Landeta and signing Kevin Stemke. Landeta, 42, is in his 20th NFL season and is one of only two former USFL players still in action in the NFL. But he's 31st out of 33 punters in the NFL with a net average of 32.5 yards and was singled out for criticism after a 37-17 loss at Buffalo last week.

Kansas City Chiefs starting right tackle John Welbourne will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury.

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