CHICAGO – Are you sick of the “Next Man Up” cliché? Probably.
But there is a reason that teams use it ad nauseam through the National Football League and in other sports: Those who can actually pull it off tend to be successful, especially in the volatile world of professional football.
Injuries are a frequent occurrence and it’s unusual for teams to completely avoid the “bug” at some point during a given season. Building depth is one of the key component’s of Ryan Pace’s construction of the Bears, and if the team is to make a Super Bowl run, they’ll depend on it.
That’s why credit for Sunday’s 16-6 win over the Vikings can go to Pace along with the Bears’ staff. Their starters played a major role, but it was the replacements signed or drafted by the team whom they developed that kept this contest from slipping away.
“For the amount of guys that stepped in throughout the week, with some of the injuries that we had. It just goes to show the type of culture that we have. It’s as simple as that,” said head coach Matt Nagy of his team getting help from the backups this season. “There was no concern in regard to, now what. No, it’s the next guy up. That was a really good football team that we just played, and to come here and battle through that and win the way we did, for me as a head coach, I’m just super proud.”
It starts with the offense, who started the game without starting left guard Kyle Long, who was replaced by Ted Larsen, who was then replaced by Rashaad Coward when he got injured. Of course, they were protecting Chase Daniel, who replaced Mitchell Trubisky early in the first quarter when he was slammed to the ground and injured his shoulder.
The veteran was effective and efficient from the first drive, leading a touchdown march of 75 yards following Trubisky’s injury. He wouldn’t reach the endzone again, as a few promising drives stalled out, settling for three Eddy Pineiro field goals.
For the day, Daniel was a solid 22-of-30 for 195 yards with that first quarter touchdown pass to Tarik Cohen. Helping him was Javon Wims, who filled in for the injured Taylor Gabriel and had four catches for 56 yards. Signing the quarterback as Trubisky’s back-up may end up being one of Pace’s most shrewd moves the last two years, for other teams have struggled when they’ve missed at this position.
Last season, Daniel filled in for Trubisky and got them a split in games against the Lions and Giants. He’s already off to a 1-0 start in 2019.
” I guess you never really know when it’s going to happen. I just wanted to go out there and just act as confident as possible because I felt confident, and I felt confident in the huddle,” said Daniel. “I’ve been in with those guys before in the huddle, and I think they’ve felt the confidence from me, and we were able to go out and for the most part move the ball. We put some drives together I think over 32 minutes of time of possession, and it worked out in the end.”
Like all season, the defense helped it work out, but they had their own injury issues, too.
Akiem Hicks’ knee kept him out of the lineup while Bilal Nichols continues to be out with a broken hand. Roquan Smith was a late scratch due for personal reasons, which remained a mystery even after the game, yet the Bears’ persevered.
Nick Kwiatkowski led the team with ten tackles, was constantly finding his way to the football, getting a sack as part of his two tackles for loss. It’s arguably his best performance in a Bears’ uniform since joining the team in 2016. Nick Williams was as effective filling in for Hicks, netting two sacks to add to his four on the season and help spearhead a front seven push that netted six sacks on the day.
Of course, Khalil Mack and the regular had a lot to do with it, but they help they got from the backups pushed them over the top.
“It’s fun to watch,” said linebacker Leonard Floyd of the play of the backups. “Those guys always want their opportunity. It’s fun to see them go out and get that opportunity and seize the moment and make those plays that make us win.”
Seeing those players do that gives fans more faith that the group can continue to win the rest of the year. It appears the Bears have enough “next men” to do the job if the first ones are out of the lineup.