Josh Sitton’s ankle injury is just what the Bears didn’t need — their six-game streak of offensive line continuity to start the season is a big reason the offense is at least gaining yards and avoiding costly quarterback sacks, even if it’s not scoring points.
Sitton, a three-time Pro Bowl guard in eight seasons with the Packers, has been playing at a Pro Bowl level with the Bears. He suffered the injury on the second-to-last offensive play of the Bears’ 17-16 loss to the Jaguars on Sunday at Soldier Field. The Bears’ streak of offensive-line continuity — and Sitton’s chance to play against his former teammates — is in jeopardy. Sitton did not participate in Tuesday’s glorified walk-through at Halas Hall. Eric Kush appears in line to replace Sitton if he can’t go.
But you can never count Sitton out. The former fourth-round draft pick has played in 81 consecutive games and 129-of-131 games overall since becoming a starter for the Packers in 2009. He missed two games in 2011 with a sprained right knee. And he’s had many more injuries than that.
“The thing I always appreciated about Josh was his toughness,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said Tuesday. “The guy played with some serious dings on his body for years and was always a warrior out there and playing through things.”
Sitton, a Florida native who grew up in Pensacola and played at Central Florida, signed with the Bears the day after he was unceremoniously cut by the Packers on Sept. 3 — despite Sitton being at or near the top of his game. Sitton insisted he had “no vendetta against Green Bay” when he joined the Bears.
“Honestly, it didn’t have anything to do with sticking it to the Packers,” he said after his first practice at Halas Hall. “More familiar with the division. Close to where I was. I like the weather up here. It’s too damn hot in the south.”
Already, the Bears know what they’ve gained.
“He’s a really good pass protector. He’s a really good player,” Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “He makes the rest of the guys better because he’s a leader. He can tell guys, he’s been in the division a long time and knows the opponents. He knows the guys we’re going to face, so it definitely helps a lot.”
And the Packers know what they’ve lost.
“You look at his instincts and awareness. He definitely has an excellent mind for the game of football,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Played a lot of good football for us. Obviously we won a Super Bowl with Josh. He did a hell of a job.”
“We had a lot of great times together — a lot of big, high moments,” Rodgers said. “[He’s] a really funny guy [who] always knew how to keep it light even at a moment of frustration — Josh was always one quick with a joke or a funny anecdote. I always appreciated his attitude and how he put his body on the line.”
The Bears could use some of Sitton’s quips, jokes and anecdotes in a season already fraught with too many moments of frustration. At 1-5, Sitton is learning how the other half lives. The Packers made the playoffs in all eight seasons he was a starter, winning Super Bowl XLV after the 2010 season.
In fact, the Packers never were worse than 3-3 after six games when Sitton played there — in 2010 and 2012. Every other year they were either 6-0 or 4-2. And even when they did start slowly, they always had the great Rodgers to eventually bail them out.
“I’ve been on a couple of teams that were struggling. I’ve been on both sides of it,” Sitton insisted last week. “You try not to focus on that. You focus on what you can control. We’re always focusing on trying to get better every day and trying to win the next game. And we’re moving in the right direction here.”
Despite the Bears’ problems, Sitton said he is enjoying his new environment at Halas Hall. “It’s been good. This line has been fun to work with,” he said. “We’ve really had a good time getting to know each other. I’ve got a great goup of guys in there. We have a good time and we work hard. It’s been fun.”
Sitton is such a team player that he declined to analyze his performance so far. “This is a team game — not going to say,” he said. “The only thing that matters is winning. We need to win some games.”
The Packers were 77-34-1 overall and 30-11-1 in the NFC North when Sitton was a starter from 2009-15. The Bears are 20-34 in the last three-plus seasons. What makes the difference?
“I’m not sure,” Sitton said. “Winning in this league is not easy. If I had the answers, I probably wouldn’t be sitting here. I’d be making a lot of money being a head coach somewhere. I don’t know all the answers. It’s tough to win in this league.”