(MCT) — CHICAGO — There was bright sunshine at Soldier Field on Sunday, as much as we’ve seen at any game this year.
It was considerably darker in the bowels of the stadium in the back room where injured players are laid on tables and poked and prodded, tested, X-rayed and diagnosed.
On a day in which the Bears put together what arguably was their most impressive, complete victory of the season, they may have moved further from their goals than closer.
One by one, they limped or staggered off the field.
Charles Tillman. Devin Hester. Chris Spencer. Lance Louis. Matt Forte.
Even Lance Briggs, the heart of the defense, was hobbled afterward.
This was after a week in which the Bears lost Alshon Jeffery and Chilo Rachal.
Attrition has set in for the Bears, right on schedule. Just when it is least welcome, at the point of the season when champions are made and pretenders are exposed.
We don’t know the severity of any of the injuries. All we know is Tillman and Forte hurt their ankles, Spencer and Louis have knee sprains and Hester suffered a concussion. Except for Briggs, none of them finished the game.
Dealing with injuries could be the greatest challenge of the Bears’ season, and ultimately what defines this team.
It is particularly troubling on the offense line, where continuity is king and three men may have been lost within four days. Asked about continuity on the line, Cutler said, “I don’t think it’s possible now with all the moving parts we have. With Lance going down, we’re not going to have that. We’re going to have to roll with the punches and the guys we have and we’ll see what we have.”
If Louis can’t play Sunday against the Seahawks, the Bears may replace their best offensive lineman with Gabe Carimi, a player who was benched at offensive tackle and now is being asked to play a foreign position. Or with James Brown, a player who has yet to take his first NFL snap.
Overcoming one or two player losses is difficult. But the Bears might have lost as many starters as there are senses, Great Lakes or Jacksons in the original group.
The Bears have hope, though, because they have responded well to adversity.
They showed their resilience Sunday by bouncing back from a 25-point loss to the 49ers. And they showed their resilience earlier in the season by bouncing back from a 13-point loss to the Packers.
Since 2008, the Bears have followed losses by 20 points or more with six wins by an average of nearly 17 points. It has become a Lovie Smith trademark.
“We’ve had good football teams that have come back from those,” Smith said. “We have a veteran crew. And it doesn’t matter whether you win or you lose, you have to just learn from your mistakes from that last game and go back to the practice field. We had an excellent week of work even though it was a short week. And it was a game we had to have.”
The Bears also have hope because they have depth.
Kelvin Hayden, Charles Tillman’s stand-in, came home to Chicago for this.
“I’m comfortable with it,” Hayden said of the prospect of having to play more. “It won’t be my first rodeo. I’ll just keep preparing the way I have.
“You just want to focus on the details and when your number is called, just respond.”
Hayden, who had two pass breakups Sunday, has 53 career starts, including one in which he ran back a Rex Grossman pass for a pick-six on football’s biggest stage.
He has something else too. Fresh legs.
So does Eric Weems, who was returning kicks and punts in Hester’s place. And so does Michael Bush, who took over for Forte.
Bush averaged 2.9 yards per carry, but he was the most valuable running back on the field. He scored on a pair of 1-yard touchdown runs, and ran for four first downs, including one on fourth-and-1.
“That’s what we brought Michael here for,” Smith said.
If the Bears are going to keep this one-game roll going, they are going to need more heroes and new heroes. It’s the nature of the NFL.
Against the Vikings, the Bears received contributions that some might say were unexpected from wide receiver Earl Bennett and tight end Matt Spaeth.
“You get to this point in the season, you are going to need more guys stepping up like that,” Smith said.
The true test of a football team isn’t how well it can play when every planet is aligned in its universe. It’s how well it can play when comets come crashing into their plans.
Those comets are flying now.