Quality backups are key for injury-riddled NFL teams

The Bears have three quality quarterbacks, and they’ll probably need them all.

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Bears quarterback Andy Dalton, center, looks to pass as fellow quarterbacks Nick Foles, left, and Justin Fields watch.

Bears quarterback Andy Dalton, center, looks to pass as fellow quarterbacks Nick Foles, left, and Justin Fields watch.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

The Bears made it through the preseason with resounding success!

That is, they got to the regular season with all three quarterbacks — Andy Dalton, Justin Fields and Nick Foles — intact and ready for action.

And here’s a guess: All three will play sometime between now and into the possible playoffs in January. Yep, even Foles.

Here’s an axiom: NFL players get hurt. Like, always. Sometimes positions get so diminished that teams have to activate players from practice squads to fill in.

If you’re a Bears observer, you might recall the big hopes created by quarterback Jim McMahon, who was able to limp through one Super Bowl championship season but faded as a team leader because he could never stay healthy. McMahon never started more than 12 games in a season in his 14-year career and started six or fewer seven times.

The Bears’ problem back then was they didn’t plan ahead and never had a quality backup for McMahon.

Whatever you may think of current Bears third-stringer Foles and his abilities, remember he led the Eagles to the Super Bowl LII championship and was named MVP after passing for 373 yards and three touchdowns. How did he get there? Starting quarterback Carson Wentz tore the ACL and LCL in his left knee in Game 13.

Injuries happen. Indeed, they’re guaranteed in football. Last year, according to Sportico.com, which analyzed NFL stats, there were 801 injuries in games, the most for a season.

The longer you can keep your best players healthy (or have very good backups when they do go down), the better you’ll do. It’s a rule that from the first snap onward, some player on every team is wincing in pain.

The lucky and the clever and the prepared fare the best. Tom Brady, 43, started every regular-season and postseason game for the 2020 Buccaneers — all 20 of them — and the Bucs rode him to the Super Bowl crown. 

The odds of a man in his fifth decade on Earth playing an entire NFL season and avoiding injury is pretty low. And as the truth now has it, Brady was indeed hurt — maybe the entire year, perhaps since leaving the Patriots in 2019 —with a torn MCL. But he played hurt, with a brace, and because he’s slower than a mud turtle anyway, his lack of speed was no factor. So it worked.

But if you play hurt and don’t tell anybody — and you play badly because of it — you’re not of much use to your team. 

With 17 games this season for the first time, the difference for a player being hurt or being injured (one of those great coaching distinctions) will be a test for every man.

Wentz, by the way, never really got his mojo back after 2017. He kept getting hurt, lost his job to rookie Jalen Hurts in 2020 and was traded to the Colts in the offseason.

The Bears have six players 30 or older, and that’s a concern. Offensive lineman Jason Peters is 39 and has started 203 regular-season games in 18 years, and —quite frankly — I hope the guy can get out of bed when he’s 60.

Lots of Bears have gotten injured already in the preseason, though they’ve healed and come back. But linebacker Danny Trevathan and offensive lineman Teven Jenkins are on injured reserve. Jenkins shows that age isn’t the only thing to worry about — the guy is only 23.

And then there are a number of players who, at least for the opener against the Rams on Sunday night, are covered by that wonderfully vague term, ‘‘questionable.’’ They include Robert Quinn, Bilal Nichols, Alex Bars and Deon Bush, important players all.

If you think you know your team and how it’s going to do, just think of the star players from other teams who didn’t make it through the preseason to Game 1 this year, like Jets pass rusher Carl Lawson or Jaguars running back Travis Etienne, the 25th overall pick in the 2021 draft.

 Devastating preseason injuries in the past have taken out terrific players such as Michael Vick, Donnie Avery and Darryl Stingley, who was paralyzed by a hit from Jack Tatum.

The Bears have their quarterbacks lined up and healthy.

That in itself is a decent start to the season. 

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