Would the Bears have won Super Bowl XLI with defensive tackle Tommie Harris and safety Mike Brown?
You certainly could make that argument. Harris was the best three-technique in the NFL — though fighting through a midseason slump — when he suffered a knee injury in Week 13
of the 2006 season. Brown was invaluable not only as a playmaking safety but as an absolute rock of a team leader when he suffered a Lisfranc fracture in Week 6.
The Bears had the best defense in the NFL at full strength that season. With Harris and Brown healthy, they allowed 243 yards per game, 4.1 yards per play and 8.7 points per game. After Brown went down, those numbers jumped to 283 yards per game, 4.6 yards per play and 14 points per game. And with Harris and Brown out, the defense was a shell of its former self, allowing 372 yards per game, 5.1 yards per play and 23 points per game.
And they still were within a touchdown of taking the lead — with possession — in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl against the Colts. Sure seems like Harris and Brown would have made a difference there.
That unpleasant bit of Bears injury history is coming back into focus with the team in playoff contention this season and starting to show a little wear-and-tear heading into the final two regular-season games.
After a two-year stretch of injuries that compelled general manager Ryan Pace to revamp the team’s training/conditioning staff, the Bears have been winning the all-important war of attrition in the NFL. Their top 26 starters/regulars have missed 24 of 364 games (6.6 percent). Guard Kyle Long (seven games) and tight end Deon Sims (six) are the only regulars to miss more than two.
Heading into Week 16, the Bears have only three players on injured reserve: Long, Sims and linebacker Sam Acho. And Long might return next week for the regular-season finale and the postseason. A year ago at this time, they had 14 players on injured reserve, including nine starters.
So with two games to go, the Bears are going all-out for a shot at the No. 1 or No. 2 seed and a
bye in the NFC playoffs. Quarterback Mitch Trubisky and the offense need every snap they can get to continue developing into a unit that can hold its own in the playoffs.
But if there’s an overriding goal in these final two games, it’s not to get anybody hurt. The Bears have been fortunate so far, but they have started to trend into dangerous territory in recent weeks. Nickel back Bryce Callahan (broken foot) suffered a season-ending injury against the Rams, and safety Eddie Jackson (sprained ankle) and outside linebacker Aaron Lynch (elbow) suffered injuries against the Packers that kept them from traveling to California and likely will keep them out for the regular-season finale, too, if not longer.
The defense seems capable of absorbing losses. Sherrick McManis was ‘‘lights out’’ in place of Callahan against the Packers, by coach Matt Nagy’s review. Kevin Toliver played well in place of cornerback Prince Amukamara against the Buccaneers in Week 4.
Isaiah Irving seems capable of handling the Lynch role. Deon Bush for Jackson will be interesting to watch Sunday.
‘‘I’m anxious to see him play,’’ defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said of Bush.
But, at least on defense, the Bears haven’t lost a player like Harris yet. And as good as Jackson has played, they haven’t lost a player like Brown yet, either. The Bears have been deep enough so far. But while Nagy is an impressively strong-minded coach who doesn’t fear the huge hands of fate, he might want to keep his fingers crossed from here on out.