LAKE FOREST – Given the option, some teams might rather be lucky than good.
The Bears have been both.
A four-day break that included a Week 6 bye allowed the Bears to heal their bumps and bruises heading into next week’s game against the Detroit Lions. They returned to the practice field Monday at Halas Hall, where all but three players participated.
“We really enjoyed the bye week off,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “It’s always good to get refreshed, which we were able to do. We had most of the guys working out today.”
Other teams wish they could be so healthy.
Across the NFL, injuries to key players have threatened to derail teams that started the season with Super Bowl aspirations. Yet the Bears have avoided long-term injuries and overcome short-term absences with talent and depth at almost every position.
Twenty-one of the Bears’ 22 starters on offense and defense are healthy entering Week 7. The lone exception is rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who is expected to miss several weeks because of a hand injury that he suffered while making a catch Oct. 7.
In addition to Jeffery, the Bears practiced Monday without a pair of special-teams contributors: linebacker Blake Costanzo, who wore a wrap on his injured right thumb, and cornerback Sherrick McManis, who reportedly has a hip injury.
Wide receiver Earl Bennett returned to practice after a two-game absence because of a hand injury, and fullback Evan Rodriguez also returned after missing
two weeks because of a knee injury. Both are expected to play next week against the Lions.
A quick glance around the NFL reinforces the Bears’ good health and good fortune.
The Houston Texans showcased one of the league’s best defenses until they lost Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Cushing eight days ago to a torn ACL. Minus Cushing, Houston allowed a season-high 42 points and 427 yards in a loss to Green Bay.
If that seems rough, consider the Baltimore Ravens, who lost future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis to a torn triceps and cornerback Lardarius Webb to a torn ACL on Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys. Both players are expected to miss the season in a blow that would be equivalent to the Bears losing Brian Urlacher and Charles Tillman.
In the same Ravens-Cowboys game, Dallas lost starting running back DeMarco Murray to a foot injury that is expected to keep him out next week.
Some of the Bears’ biggest rivals also have been hit hard by injuries.
The Green Bay Packers returned to .500 by routing the Texans on the road, but they lost three defenders (Nick Perry, Sam Shields and D.J. Smith) to injuries during the game. The trio joined five other injured Packers who were ruled out, including Pro Bowl wide receiver Greg Jennings, who has played only two full games because of a bad groin.
Meanwhile, Detroit’s injury-riddled secondary sustained further damage Sunday when cornerbacks Jacob Lacey (concussion) and Bill Bentley (shoulder) were forced to leave the game against the Philadelphia Eagles. Elsewhere in the NFC North, the Minnesota Vikings listed nine players on their injury report Sunday at Washington.
As Bears fans know, a healthy start to the season does not guarantee a healthy finish. Late-season injuries to Jay Cutler and Matt Forte prompted a late-season meltdown in 2011, when the Bears went 1-5 in their final six games after posting a 7-3 start.
Forte missed one game this season because of a sprained ankle but recovered quickly. Other injury risks include Urlacher and Julius Peppers, who both have missed occasional practices for precautionary reasons but have not been limited in games.
It’s impossible to predict whether the Bears’ core players will stay healthy for the next 11 games. But as long as they’re feeling good, they’re also feeling ambitious.
“We really want that bye week going into the playoffs,” cornerback Tim Jennings said.
If the Bears stay healthy, they might get their wish.