EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — To outside linebacker Willie Young, all of the new rules enacted by the NFL to make the game safer mean little.
By nature, football is a violent sport. Broken bones and torn ligaments are inescapable. And sometimes you even have to watch as a teammate is removed from a game by cart.
“It’s an eat-or-be-eaten kind of deal,” Young said.
This season, the Bears have not only been eaten up, but they’ve been digested. The Bears’ injury situation is worse than most. It’s not only the sheer numbers; it’s the severity of the injuries and the players involved.
No one was searching for moral victories in the locker room Sunday after the 22-16 loss to the Giants at MetLife Stadium, but the Bears still had a chance to win in the final two minutes. Quarterback Jay Cutler, however, was being protected by backups and throwing to backups when his comeback attempt ended with an interception.
“This is a resilient group,” coach John Fox said.
But as defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said, it’s also a somber one. That’s how Hicks described the Bears’ sideline, and the loss had little to do with it.
It was who was lost. Again.
Tight end Zach Miller broke his right foot in the second quarter, left guard Josh Sitton rolled his right ankle in the third and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd injured his neck in the fourth, was taken to the hospital, then was released.
On the field, the injuries make for an endless amount of tough situations and mismatches. Young players are pressed into early action, and special-teamers start and play more.
That was the case against the Giants. At one point, the secondary included Adrian Amos, Deon Bush, Bryce Callahan, Demontre Hurst and Sherrick McManis.
Injuries can affect a team’s mood, too. And the Bears are starting to show it.
“It’s just tough, man, when guys are constantly — constantly — going down,” Young said. “I don’t even know how many guys we’ve lost.
“We’ve lost three starters, and then we lost [guard] Kyle [Long] last week. It’s tough, man. It’s definitely tough. But, once again, it’s the next guy up. There’s nothing we can do about it. Down after down, it’s a very physical sport.”
The Bears’ injury list has been defined by its big names. Players can resort to the next-man-up mantra, but rarely is that next man an upgrade.
Too many starters have missed games — Cutler, Floyd, Miller, Long, Sitton, wide receiver Kevin White, defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, cornerback Kyle Fuller, linebacker Danny Trevathan, right tackle Bobby Massie and running back Jeremy Langford.
And then there are players such as Young and cornerback Tracy Porter, who miss practice time but play on despite their own bruises, strains and minor tears. The Bears even lost backup quarterback Brian Hoyer to a broken arm.
Coaches and players hate to use injuries as an excuse, but the Bears actually can. They’re a young, rebuilding team that’s too thin depth-wise to withstand the carnage. The injuries muddle the evaluations of Fox and his coaching staff — and even Cutler.
“They’re starting to add up pretty quickly,” said Cutler, who completed 17 of 30 passes for 252 yards, a touchdown and an 81.5 passer rating.
That’s an understatement.
Fox said the Bears’ attrition would rank among the top five worst situations of his 27-year coaching career.
“It’s up there,” he said.
And that’s partly why the Bears are down there in the standings.
“Injuries happen, man, and you hate to see that,” Trevathan said. “It hurts to the core when somebody on the team who you’ve been working hard with through the whole year goes down.”