The injury news for the Bears defense only gets worse, it seems.
Playing already without defensive end Akiem Hicks, edge rusher Khalil Mack and inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, the Bears face a potential stretch of games now without linebacker Roquan Smith.
They lost Smith during Thursday's 16-14 win over Detroit due to a hamstring injury and his status will be day to day going forward.
"Yeah, the soft tissue, you never know," coach Matt Nagy said. "Everyone's a little bit different. It depends on the magnitude and the level of hamstrings.
"Everybody gets them and they're all probably a little bit different on how many you've had in your career, how do you respond to them, all that. He'll be doing everything he can to get right."
Recovery from hamstring injuries or groin injuries always seem uncertain and a proper recovery could require several games missed.
For instance, wide receiver Allen Robinson suffered a pulled hamstring on Nov. 8 against Pittsburgh and remains out. Eddie Jackson just came back Thursday from one and had been out since Oct. 31.
Smith has developed into their true defensive leader with Mack, Hicks and Trevathan plagued by injuries throughout this season.
"Well, I mean I think everybody understands and knows how I feel about Roquan and the type of football player he is on Sunday," Nagy said during Friday's day-after press conference. "But I don't know if people truly understand who he is as a leader of this team. Not just the defense but the team in general. And so you see that happen with the hamstring and we'll keep an eye on it and who knows how long it is? Keep your fingers crossed for that.
"But he's a big part of this thing. His true professionalism, the respect that he has from his teammates, from his coaches, it's rare. And he's only been getting better every year and this year is probably his best year."
Smith was at 113 tackles, just 26 short of his career high which he set last year. He has eight tackles for loss after making 18 last season.
Without Smith in the lineup, the Bears turned to an inside linebacker group that included Christian Jones or Caleb Johnson helping Alec Ogletree. None of the three players played in Chicago last year, although Johnson had been a Bear from 2014-2017 before leaving for Detroit as a free agent.
The Bears had other changes to deal with on defense. They chose to bench struggling left cornerback Kindle Vildor and had former Steelers starter Artie Burns in his place.
Burns was burned for the first Lions touchdown and had both moments of brilliance and disaster the rest of the game, his first start in Chicago. He had two tackles and a pass defensed. Burns was with the Bears last year but on injured reserve after he had a torn ACL in last year's training camp.
They also had a change at slot cornerback as Duke Shelley is on injured reserve due to a hamstring injury, but instead of turning to Marqui Christian after he had started the season there they put Xavier Crawford in as the third cornerback. The end result was a season low for passing yards allowed at 165, but also a couple of TD passes allowed.
"As far as the players individually, again, I think you see Artie Burns, he came in yesterday and even early on they hit him on a double move, seven-step timing double move, dagger and go," Nagy said. "And that's hard, but he recovered and he made some good plays. He backed it up.
"Again, Kindle's gonna continue to keep fighting. He has a great spirit. He understands that he's gonna, that we want to keep coaching him, keep bringing him along and getting him going."
Nagy said neither the injuries, the two touchdowns passes allowed in the game, nor the previous two weeks of surrendering late scores to lose had an impact on his strategic decisions to end the game.
They kept the ball and downed it three times on the game-ending 8:30, 18-play drive—the longest they've had since Nagy became coach—in what some could have perceived as a strategic gamble or even wise coaching.
"No matter who the defense is, we would have done that to not give a team a chance to get the ball back, regardless of the defense," Nagy said. "Even with what like the last couple weeks with our defense, what has happened—that had nothing to do with it."
The Bears could have tried to score a touchdown and then give the Lions the ball back with a chance to win it with a TD in the closing half minute, or do what they did and run down the clock for Cairo Santos' winning 28-yard field goal.
The problem the Bears had was the Lions had no timeouts, so it was very possible Detroit would have simply let the Bears score a TD simply to get a chance to have the ball and try for their own TD because if they didn't they were going to be beaten by a chip shot field goal.
"It's a helpless feeling and defenses have calls in their playbook where they not only let you score but they grab you and throw you in the end zone, you know?" Nagy said. "After a few more plays we were like, 'Damn, Andy, don't keep losing too many yards on these QB kneels.' I think it was first-and-goal at the 4 and it ended up being, we lost a total of I think 5 or 7 yards we lost total. But being at the 4 when that happened, we still felt pretty good about it."