Bears quarterback Nick Foles, the greatest team guy this side of Josh McCown, wasn’t about to even gently criticize his undermanned and overwhelmed offensive line Sunday.
‘‘They played as hard as they could and gave me everything they had, and that’s all I can ever ask of them,’’ Foles said when asked about the generally shoddy protection he received in a 24-17 loss to the Titans. ‘‘You go out there, you play together as an offense and you give it everything you have until the end — and they did that. So I’m proud of them for that.’’
‘‘They did the best they could’’ was about all you could say for the Bears’ makeshift offensive line against the Titans. Missing three starters (left guard James Daniels, center Cody Whitehair and right tackle Bobby Massie) and two backups (tackle Jason Spriggs and center Sam Mustipher), the Bears filled in with Band-Aids.
Right tackle Rashaad Coward, an undrafted free-agent defensive tackle in 2017, was playing offensive tackle for the first time in his NFL career. Left guard Arlington Hambright, a seventh-round draft pick, was playing in his first NFL game. Center Alex Bars, a highly regarded undrafted free agent in 2019, not only was making his first NFL start but never had played center in college or the NFL. And they had only one day of practice because Whitehair’s positive coronavirus test forced the cancellation of practice Thursday.
With fill-ins on an offensive line that was struggling at full strength, it went about as expected. Coward, Bars and Hambright did their best, but with starters Charles Leno and Germain Ifedi also culpable, Foles was constantly under pressure and unable to get into a rhythm.
He was sacked three times, forced into an intentional-grounding penalty and pressured into bad throws that had no chance. In fairness, he had great protection on a 22-yard completion to Darnell Mooney in the third quarter, but that was a rarity. Foles finished with a respectable 99.4 passer rating, but it was 82.7 as the Titans built a 24-3 lead in the fourth quarter.
Help is on the way. Spriggs, the backup for Massie, was activated from the reserve/COVID-19 list and likely will start Monday against the Vikings at Soldier Field, with Coward moving back to left guard. Whitehair also might return if his calf is healed and he passes requirements for activation from the reserve/COVID-19 list.
Regardless, the Bears are going to have to find a way to protect their quarterback. Foles is not immobile, but he’s not Russell Wilson — or Mitch Trubisky, for that matter — either. The Bears deteriorating line has complicated the Foles-for-Trubisky switch in Week 3. If there’s no difference in their effectiveness, the more mobile Trubisky might be the better fit with a shaky offensive line.
But Trubisky still is recovering from a shoulder injury. And coach Matt Nagy wasn’t about to go there when asked about Trubisky and the offensive line’s issues on Foles’ effectiveness.
‘‘There’s not just one person right now with this offense,’’ Nagy said. ‘‘There’s a multitude of issues we’re having.’’
With Trubisky still out, the Bears signed fringe quarterback Kyle Sloter — who never has played in an NFL regular-season game — to their practice squad. But Trubisky wasn’t put on injured reserve and might be in play when he returns. For now, however, it’s up to Foles to deal with whatever protection he gets.
‘‘I don’t care if your line is at full strength or you’re playing a bunch of young guys because you’re beat up,’’ quarterbacks coach John DeFilippo said. ‘‘More times than not, it’s not going to be pretty. So as a quarterback, to have success, you have to go in there assuming that things are going to be as clean as they’re designed, and then you have to react.’’