By Chris Emma–
LAKE FOREST, Ill. (CBS) — It’s only natural to think beyond next Sunday in the NFL. For all the preparation that goes into each game — practice reps, film review and so much more — greater ramifications stand ahead in time.
Injuries can cost a player millions of dollars and risk long-term health. Essentially, playing through the pain is a gamble. Bears running back Matt Forte and receiver Alshon Jeffery are keeping that in consideration with their respective injuries.
“That’s …the most important factor, is the future,” Forte said on Friday. “You go out there for one game and then ruin the rest of your season or maybe your career, that’s a big factor. There’s a lot of football left to be played — you don’t want to chance it for one game.”
Forte confirmed that he has an MCL sprain, suffered in Chicago’s loss to Minnesota on Nov. 1. He played through the same injury in 2009, then missed four games with it in 2011. This past Monday, he missed what was just the sixth game in his eight-year career, a 22-19 win over the Chargers.
The Bears could use the impact of their versatile veteran running back on Sunday in St. Louis. The Rams’ defense is intimidating, and Forte could be an X-factor. But his knee is not full healed — “I don’t think I ever am 100 percent when I play in a game,” he said — and the 29-year-old faces an uncertain future an expiring contract this offseason.
Forte was limited in work on Friday, as he has been this week. His knee has made “a ton of improvement” from last week but still holds fluid. He believes he has more productive seasons ahead, but that’s put in jeopardy each time he takes the field — especially in potentially playing through an MCL sprain.
For Jeffery, there are similar circumstances as he deals with a groin injury. At 25, he’s preparing for a new contract that could place him among the highest-paid receivers in the NFL. He’s in a different part of his career than Forte, especially when considering the short shelf life of a running back, but these are similar concerns that exist.
On Friday, Jeffery was back on the practice field, working in a limited role. He showed his usual ability to move throughout the field and make catches but had his upper leg heavily wrapped.
“I’m fine,” Jeffery said. “I’ll be all right.”
Jeffery didn’t say much about his health, attempting to remain optimistic. He has missed four games this season with injuries to his hamstring and calf. Jeffery’s agent in September denied that a contract dispute had any impact on his recovery time. In the four games Jeffery has played, he has recorded 33 catches for 492 yards and two touchdowns.
Entering Sunday, Jeffery has a streak of four games with at least 100 yards receiving, the first Bears receiver in 20 years to accomplish such a feat.
“He’s got a stretch of games that we’d like to continue this week in St. Louis,” Bears coach John Fox said.
Every player deals with a different recovery process when it comes to injuries. Bears edge rusher Pernell McPhee didn’t practice all week as he battles a knee injury of his own, and he’s been largely limited the past several weeks.
Yet, McPhee has yet to miss a game, in part because of maintenance during the week.
On Thursday, Fox joked that rest is the best way for Jeffery and any player to recover from an injury.
“Well, no kidding,” Fox added with a touch of sarcasm.
Battling back from injuries can be a grueling process, with motivation to return fueled by many variables. The Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis has a hard turf surface that adds to the risk of further injuring a knee.
Forte, like Jeffery, McPhee and so many others, is wise to be wary of risks that come with a sudden return from injury. Unlike 2009, he’s not in a position to play with fluid in his knee. Taking the turf in St. Louis against a physical Rams defense is another concern, too.
The long-term health and financial risk is an important influence in playing through the pain.
“If you aren’t fully healed up and you go out there, you could take one step forward and then get injured and take five steps back,” Forte said. “That’s not good to come back for one game and then be out for fix or six. You obviously don’t want to do something like that.”