With a two-touchdown lead, possession of the ball and less than five minutes left, the Bears were just trying to run some clock and turn out the lights on a victory over the Jets on Sunday at Soldier Field. But a simple running play changed the tenor of that effort.
“Anytime you’re blocking and turn around and hear somebody yelling, you know it’s not good,” center Cody Whitehair said.
Indeed it was not. Guard Kyle Long, in the middle of a fairly typical inside-run pileup, was on the ground and in pain — so clearly hurt that left tackle Charles Leno Jr. immediately signaled to the bench that something was wrong. Long was helped to his feet and clearly could not put any weight on his right foot as he was helped off the field by Bears medical personnel. After going to the sideline, he went to the locker room on a cart. The Bears finished a 24-10 victory without him.
“We don’t know the severity of it, but a win’s a win, so we’ll focus on that right now,” Leno said. “When we learn more about it, we’ll see what’s up. But you never want to see one of your soldiers go down.”
The Bears will learn more about the severity of Long’s injury Monday. But considering Long’s recent history, the sense of dread among Bears observers matched or exceeded the sense of concern of his teammates. He suffered a severe ankle injury on the same leg in 2016 — with ligament and tendon damage that required extensive reconstructive surgery. Coach Matt Nagy indicated this was not a recurrence of that injury.
“I know he was in some pain, but we won’t know the exact details until the next couple of days,” Nagy said.
Long went to his locker on crutches after the game and showered but did not talk to reporters. Many teammates, on offense and defense, offered words of support, some with pained looks on their faces, knowing how much Long has been through. Long, who turns 30 on Dec. 5, had three surgeries in the offseason — on his neck, shoulder and elbow. He missed eight games in 2016 and six last season.
“He’s already been through so much; it sucks to see Kyle go down like that,” Leno said. “But we don’t know the severity of it. We’re just trying to go back there and give him some love. I know what he’s been through.”
“On the field before they took him off, we rallied around him, told him we loved him and we always have his back,” Whitehair said. “That’s just how this offensive line is and this team is. The culture of this team is unbelievable.”
The 6-6, 316-pound Long would be tough to replace, but the Bears have workable options if he can’t go. Veteran Eric Kush has been alternating with rookie James Daniels at left guard, and one of them likely would move to the right side. Daniels made his first start Sunday because Kush was out with a stinger. With Kush unavailable, reserve Bryan Witzmann — who started 14 games at left guard for the Chiefs last season, including a playoff game — replaced Long against the Jets. The NFL trade deadline is Tuesday.
“That’s my guy,” quarterback Mitch Trubisky said. “He’s always had my back. I can’t say enough about Kyle and how much he loves this organization and the game of football.
“To see a guy go down like that, it hurts. And we just try to pick him up and rally behind him in any way we can. He knows we love him, and we’re just going to hope for the best. But when he comes out, the next guy has to step up, and we’ve got to play for him and just rally together as a family.”