Jeremy Langford sat at his locker, a towel around his neck, just shaking his head. The Bears rookie running back was posed a question about a single play in the team's 23-20 loss to Minnesota on Sunday, and Langford wanted to collect his thoughts before speaking into the group of microphones placed in front of him.
Looking just at the box score, Langford had the best game of his young professional career in the Week 8 contest against the Vikings. The back ran 12 times for 46 yards - both career-highs - and helped the Chicago offense perform at a high level in the second half versus the Vikings. Playing in place of starter Kyle Long, who left the game in the third quarter after suffering a knee injury, Langford had a key role in Chicago's touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter that momentarily gave the Bears a seven-point lead.
But the question Langford was pondering wasn't about any of those things. Instead it was about a play late in the fourth quarter, after Minnesota had tied the game. The Bears had a minute and 49 seconds to take the ball from their own 20-yard line into field goal range, and with Forte out, Langford was the key back. After a 5-yard pass from Jay Cutler to Martellus Bennett and an incompletion deep down the left sideline to Marquess Wilson, Chicago faced 3rd-and-5 from its own 25 with 1:17 to go.
Out of the shotgun, Cutler took the snap, scanned the defense and evaded a pair of Vikings defenders. The quarterback looked to find a receiver and spotted his rookie running back streaking across the field wide open. On the run, Cutler darted a pass that hit Langford in the chest. The running back's mind was on the open field of green grass in front of him, but he never secured the catch. The ball fell to the ground.
The incompletion forced the Bears to punt, and four plays later, Minnesota kicked the game-winning field goal as time expired.
"I feel comfortable with my hands, I feel that's one of my strong points," Langford said. "I just have to focus better overall to secure that catch to help the team out."
Many of the rookie's teammates spoke up for him after the game. The drop was far from the only deciding play in the contest, and the rookie was not hanging his head in shame. One of several players pushed into a larger role because of an injury, Langford was optimistic that he'd remember the error and use it as learning experience moving forward.
"[Jeremy] is going to be a heck of a football player for us," Cutler said.
The quarterback chatted with his rookie teammate following the drop, telling him that one play doesn't win or lose a game, and that the best thing he can do is learn from the mistake.
"I thought [Langford] did a really good job of stepping in for Matt Forte and we will have to see what the extent of Matt's injury is but I look forward to him having a long career here," Cutler said.
Langford was not the only Bears player who was asked to step up to a new role on Sunday. With rookie center Hroniss Grasu dealing with a neck injury, there was a domino effect on the Chicago offensive line. Matt Slauson moved from left guard to center, Vlad Ducasse went from right guard to left guard, and Patrick Omameh started at right guard.
Wide receiver Eddie Royal also left the game after suffering a knee injury in the first half, another setback for the offense that forced other players on the roster to step up.
"We knew we had to pick it up as a line," Slauson said. "To lose guys like that, and as you saw, we kind of got things moving a little bit then. That's because we knew we had to go even more because we didn't have our guys."
The defense wasn't without its personal setbacks. Inside linebacker Shea McClellin was inactive because of a lingering knee injury, and nickel back Bryce Callahan left the game because of a concussion.
Chicago's defense played well for much of the contest, but was burned by big plays on Minnesota's final two drives, as quarterback Teddy Bridgewater drove the Vikings down for the game-tying and game-winning drives in the final five minutes of the fourth quarter. Callahan's replacement, Sherrick McManis, gave up Stefon Diggs' game-tying 40-yard TD reception with 1:49 to play.
With eight days before the next game at San Diego, the Bears have some time to get healthy or prepare their backup players for larger roles. They also have time to evaluate the mistakes that cost them versus the Vikings and make the proper corrections so that they don't occur again.
"As a team we can't just hang our head," said linebacker Pernell McPhee. "We have to go back in the (classroom) to learn from our mistakes. We have to keep pushing and pushing and overcome this hump."