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Pernell McPhee, Kyle Long injuries leave Bears still seeking solution

Asked if there was anything the Bears could have done to keep Pernell McPhee healthier this season — after the oft-injured linebacker was put on injured reserve again Wednesday — coach John Fox offered only sarcasm.

“Probably left him in the training room — it’s a little healthier than playing football,” Fox said. “This was a little different deal. This has been a shoulder, a pinched shoulder — one he tried to go with. He gutted it [out]. Actually played pretty well in the Detroit game. But he kind of retweaked it.”

McPhee indeed played well against the Lions — including a batted pass on third down and a tackle-for-loss. But he lasted just 15 plays before aggravating the shoulder injury that kept him out of the Bengals game.

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Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee (92) deflects a pass by Matthew Stafford for an incompletion on third down against the Lions on Saturday. McPhee also had a tackle for a six-yard loss, but played only 15 snaps before aggravating a shoulder injury. The Bears lost, 20-10 at Ford Field to drop to 4-10 this season.
(Rick Osentoski/AP)

McPhee became the 15th player on the Bears’ current injured reserve list and the 19th overall this season. After showing progress following an offseason health initiative after finishing last season with 19 players on injured reserve, the Bears are right back where they started from — unable to prevent injuries and struggling to keep injured players healthy.

There seem to be surprises around every turn. Guard Kyle Long, who battled back from ankle surgery to start nine games and was named a Pro Bowl alternate, went on injured reserve on Dec. 5 after aggravating a shoulder injury against the 49ers. It turns out he had a neck injury as well and underwent neck surgery Tuesday. Long indicated in a social-media post that he has two surgeries left — presumably to repair a torn labrum and dislocated fingers — but he was upbeat about going into the 2018 season healthy.

According to Fox, the severity of Long’s neck issue was not immediately known until “really after we shut him down,” Fox said. “He had a lot of things bothering him — his ankle, his shoulder, the neck was a little bit of an issue. We didn’t know the extent of it. But now we do, and it’s been repaired.”

Even if Long returns to full strength, the Bears have a lot of work to do to maintain the general health of their team. Just as McPhee decided to play through a knee injury in 2015 that eventually led to surgery and the physically unable-to-perform list to start the 2016 season, Long’s string of injuries began with a torn labrum in 2015 that he decided to play through.

Would it have been better to repair the labrum when it happened?

“I don’t know about any of that stuff,” Fox said. “I think playing football is the common denominator. I’ll just leave it at that.”

Whatever. The Bears need better luck or a better way of staying healthy in 2018. One of the overlooked facets to the Rams template the Bears seem to fit so well is that the Rams have been healthy all season. Their five offensive line starters have yet to miss a game. The Rams have only one starter on injured reserve — cornerback Kayvon Webster. The Bears have 10.

“When you look around the league, I don’t think we’re the Lone Ranger,” Fox said when asked about a second consecutive season with nearly 20 players on injured reserve. “It’s a part of football. I think the game has just gotten faster. Injuries are up, I think, around the league.”

Maybe so, but not as much as Fox thinks. The Bears have 10 starters on injured reserve. The 12 teams currently in the playoffs have a combined 27 — an average of 2.3 per team.

That looks like the next guy’s problem. But it still is one the Bears are going to have to solve to take a significant step toward NFL relevance. Sarcasm won’t do it. The Bears need real answers.

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@MarkPotash.

Email: mpotash@suntimes.com