CHICAGO – Scattered around the Bears’ locker room Sunday afternoon, players stood in front of TV cameras and newspaper reporters, repeating a version of the same football reality.
Injuries happen. They’re part of the game. You have to always be ready.
But any satisfaction that could be taken from snapping a two-game losing streak with a 28-10 win over Minnesota at Soldier Field was watered down by a victory in which the Bears lost five starters to injury.
The injuries – including two on an already paper-thin offensive line – leave the Bears limping into Sunday’s home game with Seattle with plenty of question marks at key positions.
“It’s frustrating more than anything,” offensive tackle Jonathan Scott said. “But you have to be able to go through adversity – it’s one of those things you have to be able to overcome.”
Chief among them is the concussion suffered Sunday by receiver and return specialist Devin Hester, whose potential absence could impact a receiving corps already depleted by an injury to Alshon Jeffrey. But while Hester’s injury was certainly the most serious, the Bears also had to make changes on the fly after Charles Tillman (ankle), Matt Forte (ankle), Chris Spencer (knee) and Lance Louis (knee) were forced to leave Sunday’s game.
“I normally don’t write down injuries on a sheet here,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “There’s so many, I had to remember them all.”
The Bears’ offensive line was already reeling in the aftermath of a lopsided Monday night loss to San Francisco, when the 49ers sacked Jason Campbell six times. On Sunday, with quarterback Jay Cutler back in the lineup after a concussion, the line was already on high alert before the injuries began to pile up.
Louis was knocked out of the game after being leveled by Minnesota defensive end Jared Allen during the return of a Cutler interception. The injury forced Gabe Carimi - who had been demoted following the Monday night loss – to step in at right guard, a position he had never played before Sunday.
Carimi didn’t like the circumstances surrounding his return to the field, but he played well. Like the rest of his linemates, Carimi said he is prepared to play every position up front with the exception of center. Those duties became vital Sunday when both he and Edwin Williams were called into emergency duty.
“I’m ready to go wherever they put me,” Carimi said. “I knew I’d eventually have an opportunity and I just got in and helped up the team when it needed it.”
Despite the movement along the offensive line, Cutler was sacked only once and had more time to throw than in recent weeks. While everything wasn’t perfect because of the shifting after Louis and Spencer were hurt, the results couldn’t have been much better.
“[After Monday’s loss] we just had to go back to work,” said Spencer, who said he could have returned if needed. “Just being able to bounce back was good and we want to keep Jay up right and after myself and Lance Louis went down, the other guys stepped up and did a good job.”
Cornerback Kelvin Hayden shifted from nickel back to cornerback after Tillman left the game, giving him more responsibility than he’s accustomed to.
But like others who were thrust Sunday into more significant playing time, Hayden said it’s an opportunity players have to be ready for on a regular basis.
“[The number of injuries] was crazy, but it’s the name of the game,” said Hayden, who had four tackles and defended on two pass routes. “It comes with the territory and as a player, you know they’re going to happen and whether you’re a reserve or a starter, you have to be ready when your number is called.”