Finally healthy after two years, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher launched his regular season by making a run at Aaron Rodgers, lowering his shoulder and plowing over the Packers quarterback in the first quarter.
His 10th season was off to a good start. And then, it was over.
Chicago’s star linebacker underwent surgery Monday to repair a dislocated right wrist and will not be back this season, a major blow for a team with high expectations.
There was no immediate word from Urlacher other than a text message to the Chicago Tribune that said simply: “season is over.” But coach Lovie Smith said Urlacher clearly was disappointed.
“He had put himself in position to have an outstanding year,” Smith said. “He was playing well in the game before he went down with the injury. Even after the injury to his hand, the competitor in him wanted to continue to play. It’s a tough break. There’s no way around it, but he’s been injured before and he’s come back before.”
The injury occurred in the first quarter of Sunday night’s 21-15 loss at Green Bay, though it was not clear when. Urlacher briefly shook his wrist after tackling Packers running back Ryan Grant late in the period, though Smith said he wasn’t sure when it happened.
Urlacher played in the second quarter, but left on the Packers‘ first drive of the second half.
“Talk about a guy that’s a great leader,” said Hunter Hillenmeyer, who replaced Urlacher at middle linebacker. “First, he plays an entire half of football with a dislocated wrist. I don’t think there’s many people who can do something like that.”
The arrival of Pro Bowl quarterback Jay Cutler sent expectations in Chicago soaring in the offseason, though he threw four interceptions and looked average at best in the loss.
Now the Bears are without the longtime face of the franchise and a stalwart defender in a division with top-tier running backs in Grant and Vikings star Adrian Peterson along with elite quarterbacks such as Rodgers and Minnesota’s Brett Favre.
The 31-year-old Urlacher, a six-time Pro Bowler, appeared to be in better shape after being limited by a bad back and neck the past two years.
He looked like his old self midway through the first quarter when he flattened Rodgers just as the quarterback released a pass downfield that a leaping Donald Driver juggled and dropped. Later, with about four minutes left in the quarter, Urlacher took down Grant for one of his three tackles and Packers guard Josh Sitton landed on him.
Urlacher got up and briefly shook his wrist before walking away with what looked like nothing more than a minor injury.
“No one knew the severity of it,” linebacker Lance Briggs said. “We knew that it had to be checked out. Now we know.”
Smith dismissed the idea of moving Briggs to the middle, meaning the job is Hillenmeyer’s for now. He also did not rule out bringing in help from the outside.
One option might be former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Brooks. The 36-year-old Brooks, who was cut by Tampa Bay in February, has a good relationship with Smith dating to his days on the Buccaneers‘ staff.
Zach Thomas, who was cut by Kansas City earlier this month, might also be a possibility. Neither of those two veterans would appear to have much “special teams value,” something Smith said the Bears would be seeking in a new linebacker.
“Derrick’s been a great player for a long time in the league,” Smith said. “He’s a linebacker that’s available. We’re looking at all available players, and Derrick would be a part of that. There’s no more than that right now.”
Chicago could also be short-handed in other areas, too, with Pittsburgh coming to town on Sunday.
Tight end Desmond Clark took a hard hit after making a catch in the third quarter and left the game with a rib injury. He had little to say Monday, other than this: “Report that to the fans – I’m OK. Just got a little shot to the back; I’m all right.”
Smith simply said Clark has a rib injury that will be evaluated. Left guard Frank Omiyale also went down for several minutes moments after spraining his ankle and limping off the field.
Linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa and cornerback Trumaine McBride also suffered sprained knees, but the biggest hit for a defense looking to regain its dominant form after two mediocre seasons was losing Urlacher.
“It’s disheartening, but we’ve still got a job to do,” defensive tackle Anthony Adams said.