Even though he was wearing a baseball cap and hoodie — and everyone else was in full pads — Kyle Long didn’t hesitate to enter the skirmish along the Bears’ sideline Sunday after 49ers safety Marcell Harris hit a sliding Mitch Trubisky late.
“I just know that my quarterback was on the ground, and you don’t take cheap shots at our quarterback,” said Long, who could come off injured reserve this week. “I could be out there in my underwear, and I’m still going to be going after somebody.”
The Bears are naturally protective of their quarterback. But part of what angered them about Harris’ hit was how similar it looked to the contact made by Vikings safety Harrison Smith. He hit a sliding Trubisky on Nov. 18, driving his throwing shoulder into the turf and knocking him out for the next two games. Like Harris, Smith was flagged for the hit. Smith later was fined $10,026 for unnecessary roughness.
The Bears will face Smith and the Vikings on Sunday for the first time since the hit. But coach Matt Nagy said the Bears won’t pay any special attention to Smith. Nagy drew a distinction between protecting Trubisky in the moment Sunday and entering the next game with Smith on their minds.
“To tell you the truth, I don’t even know if our guys [whole team] truly know the exact person that it was. The offense does,” he said. “So that’s just not where we’re at as a team. Our team wasn’t about that the other day with that hit. It was just more of a defense mechanism to protect your guy.
“But we’re not about being revengeful or getting back to anybody. Nothing. None of that.”
Center Cody Whitehair said the Bears “are gonna protect our guys and show everyone that we’ve got [Trubisky’s] back,” but it ends there.
“We remember it happened, but it’s not like we’re going up there to take Harrison Smith’s head off because he did that [stuff],” right tackle Bobby Massie said. “We remember that he did it. We’re gonna prepare to win this game.”
Asked what he thought of Smith’s hit Wednesday, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer had a five-word response.
“I thought [Trubisky] slid late,” he said.
Maybe so. After the injury, both Trubisky and the Bears talked openly about trying to perfect his baseball slide. Zimmer, a former defensive coordinator, said he doesn’t coach his team to play dirty.
“We’re gonna try to play to the whistle,” Zimmer said. “Obviously, we can’t hit him in the head and neck area, but if he slides late, then we’re gonna have to hit him. I don’t know what else we can do.”
He said it gets more complicated when first downs and touchdowns are at stake. The NFL has tried to further protect a sliding quarterback this year by spotting the ball where his first body part touches the ground. In previous years, sliding quarterbacks were allowed to accrue yardage until they were touched down by a defender.
“It makes it difficult when they slide late,” Zimmer said. “They’re telling us to pull off of guys. But every yard’s important. So we’re gonna play clean. We’re not a dirty football team or anything like that. I wouldn’t want anybody taking cheap shots on my quarterback, either. We’re gonna hit him if it’s clean.”
Trubisky himself said Wednesday he didn’t consider Smith’s hit “illegal or anything malicious of that nature.” He said he has put the hit behind him and is focused on winning the season finale.
Besides, he said, turning the page has been a key to the Bears’ success.
“We are where we’re at now with our record, and that’s because we don’t dwell on the past,” he said.