Josh Sitton limped off the MetLife Stadium turf midway through the third quarter on Sunday afternoon, making his way to the bench. A few minutes later, a medical cart helped take him the Chicago locker room. Not long after that, it was announced that Sitton wouldn't be returning to the Week 11 contest against the Giants because of an ankle injury.
The Bears ultimately fell short to the Giants by the score of 22-16, but the loss for the team was more than just regarding points on the scoreboard. Chicago also lost several important players after a stretch of injuries during the game, including Sitton, leaving the team shorthanded in crunch time. With a roster that was already in flux because of poor health heading into the contest, the new additions to the injury report make things even more complicated for the Bears moving forward.
Cornerback Cre'von LeBlanc left the game in the second quarter to be tested for a concussion and did not return to the game.
"You get down the depth chart,," coach John Fox said of the toll that injuries take to the team. "This is a resilient group. They're working hard and preparing hard. They were prepared good enough to win the game, we just came up a little short."
Coming into Sunday's game, the injury bug had already taken a major bite out of the Chicago lineup. Right tackle Bobby Massie, nose tackle Eddie Goldman and defensive end Mitch Unrein – all of whom were starters earlier in the season – were inactive because of injuries. Add in right guard Kyle Long, wide receiver Kevin White and cornerback Kyle Fuller – all recent first-round picks who are on Injured Reserve because of serious injuries suffered earlier in the year. And for good measure, the Bears were without top wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who missed the Giants matchup as the first of the four games which he is suspended for.
Even before Sitton went down, the injury bug took another chomp out of the Chicago lineup. Tight end Zach Miller caught an early touchdown for the Bears, but just before halftime, his right foot was accidently stepped on by Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul. Miller limped to the sideline and threw his helmet in frustration, almost as if he knew what the team's medical staff would say when they looked over the damage. The tight end never returned to the game, and after the contest it was announced that the right foot was broken, ending Miller's season.
With nearly six minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Bears were hit by another serious injury. On a handoff to New York running back Rashad Jennings, defensive end Akiem Hicks dove in to make a tackle. As Hicks dragged Jennings to the ground after a gain of three, the crown of linebacker Leonard Floyd's helmet collided with Hicks. Floyd's helmet compressed and he collapsed to the turf. After being looked at by the medical staff, Floyd was taken off the field on a backboard and cart, and taken instantly to a local hospital. Fortunately, Floyd was released from the hospital and returned to Chicago with his teammates.
Starting cornerback Cre'Von LeBlanc also left the game in the second quarter to be tested for a concussion; he did not return to the field.
"Injuries can devastate a team, but we are a team that believes in a next man up mentality," cornerback Tracy Porter said. "We want the guys who were playing to come back as soon as possible, but the health of those guys is much more important than this game. We want those guys to come back, but like I've said, we have belief in the guys that come in. If you lose more guys, you're thinning out and on the depth chart, you don't have guys to spare."
Injuries are never an excuse for an NFL team, as it is an obstacle every team in the league faces. But injuries can wear down a team's depth, especially when multiple setbacks happen at the same position. By the end of the game versus the Giants, the Bears were down their top two wide receivers, top tight end and three starting offensive linemen. On defense, the team is now down two key lineman, their top draft pick at linebacker and two cornerbacks. And those are just the projected starters; injuries have also impacted Chicago's backups throughout the season.
Outside linebacker Willie Young said that it's the nature of the game that results in so many injuries. "It's the next guy up," Young told reporters following the loss. "Don't let all these different rule changes confuse you about the game of football. This is a very physical sport – a very physical game. This is a sport where you're allowed to dominate your opponent in a professional manner and never get penalized for it. As long as you can understand that, this is football, this is the NFL. Guys' livelihoods are at stake. It's an 'Eat or be eaten' kind of deal. I've been around long enough that when guys go down, it's the next guy up."
There is hope that some of the key players who are out will return to the field soon. But until that happens, the rest of the Chicago roster will be asked to step and thrive in their new roles.