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(Reuters) - Chicago Bears defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff has been suspended for the first three games of the regular season for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, stemming from a 2013 drunken driving incident, the league said on Monday.
Ratliff, 33, will not be eligible to return to regular season practices until Monday, Sept. 28, after the team's third game of the year, which is against the Seattle Seahawks.
"It's tough to sit out any game for any reason," Ratliff told reporters after Monday's practice. "Of course, a situation like this doesn’t make it any easier. But I’m going to do what I have to do, and I’ll come back Week Four and be ready to play."
Ratliff pleaded guilty in May to a drunken driving charge after crashing his pickup truck into an 18-wheeler in the early morning of Jan. 22, 2013, in Grapevine, Texas.
Police said tests determined that Ratliff's blood-alcohol level was at 0.16, more than twice the legal limit. The seventh-round draft pick in 2005 was given one year of probation and fined $750.
The suspension did not come as a surprise to the Bears, whose head coach, John Fox, said Ratliff would still be "a viable part of our defense."
"It's something we've known about for a while," said Fox. "It happened a couple years ago. It's not a new incident, it's not breaking news. It was just a matter of time."
Ratliff, a four-time Pro Bowler, was a member of the Dallas Cowboys at the time of the accident. He spent nine seasons with the Cowboys and joined the Bears midway through the 2013 season.
His absence will be sorely felt with the Bears opening the regular season against Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle, all playoff teams a year ago. The three-game suspension will cost the lineman about $345,000 in salary and bonuses.
Ratliff said there were "a lot of things I could be doing to help myself, help the team" during his suspension.
"That’s what I’m going to focus on," he said. "This is probably, what, two, three years ago? That’s all behind me. This is the result of it, and just moving forward from here."
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg in Washington; Editing by Peter Cooney