After a slow start on Sunday afternoon against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Chicago Bears exploded for 38 points in the second half en route to a 41-3 victory. The win propelled the Bears to 4-1, good enough for a first-place tie in the NFC North with the Minnesota Vikings.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t all positive for Chicago on Sunday. After a fourth quarter touchdown reception, rookie wide receiver Alshon Jeffery left the game with an apparent injury to his right hand. Preliminary reports indicate that Jeffery’s hand was fractured, and the South Carolina product, who lead NFC rookies in receiving yards after Sunday, is expected to miss four to six weeks.
After seeing his draft stock plummet amid conditioning and character concerns, Jeffery was selected in the second round of April’s NFL Draft and showed up to Bourbonnais in terrific shape, making an immediate impression on the Bears coaching staff. That success on the practice field quickly translated into targets and Jeffery emerged as the Bears clear No. 2 option at wide receiver early in the season.
Through five weeks, Jeffery was second to Brandon Marshall in virtually every receiving category for the Bears: targets, receptions, yards, touchdowns and first downs. Now, the Bears are tasked with replicating that production over the course of the next month.
The return of Earl Bennett following this week’s bye should certainly help, but the Bears will sorely miss what Alshon Jeffery brings to the table, specifically in the redzone. Over the past two weeks, Kellen Davis has been getting more looks from quarterback Jay Cutler, and Devin Hester has emerged as a threat in the vertical passing game with long acrobatic catches in each of the past two games.
However, save Brandon Marshall, the Bears don’t have another target that can match Jeffery’s size and body control. Davis has spent most of his time this year jockeying between inconsistent and downright bad, and Hester isn’t the polished product you’d expect from a sixth year veteran at wide receiver.
So, perhaps the Bears can find temporary relief from the free agency market.
Former Jaguar and St. Louis Rams receiver Mike Sims-Walker is on the market and brings similar physical attributes to the table as Jeffery, albeit on a diminished scale. Sims-Walker struggled last season, but at 28, he is only two seasons removed from a two-year stretch in Jacksonville where he snagged 106 receptions for 1,431 yards and 14 touchdowns.
If Sims-Walker can give you even a sliver of that production, it would go a long way towards masking Jeffery’s absence.
Then, of course, there are the Hall of Fame credentials of guys like Terrell Owens and Chad Johnson, but both carry the kind of intolerable baggage that you don’t get from a guy like Mike Sims-Walker. Not to mention, neither Owens or Johnson have been viable options in years.
Ultimately, Jeffery’s health is critical for the Bears offense, and as he spends the next several weeks on the sidelines in a cast, it will be imperative for the rookie to stay involved in the playbook. His physical skills — even despite the injury — are unquestionable, but his grasp of the offense is the fulcrum point to his development as a wide receiver.
Simply put, the only place the Bears are going to get Alshon Jeffery-like production at this point in the season is from Alshon himself. Yet, that doesn’t mean that this offense is doomed to prolonged stagnancy.
For now, with Brandon Marshall playing at such a high level and the Bears running game starting to come to life, Mike Tice’s offense should be able to survive without Alshon Jeffery. However, this is still a better football team when he is on the field.
The offense still hasn’t been tested by an elite defense in 2012, and they are lucky enough to have a fairly easy stretch of the schedule approaching with Alshon injured. After the bye week, the Bears take on the Detroit Lions, the Carolina Panthers and the Tennessee Titans before taking on their first real challenge when they host the Houston Texans on Nov. 11.
Giving Alshon Jeffery exactly five weeks to the day to get healthy.
Ryan Wooden is a freelance sportswriter in Chicago. His work has been featured prominently on several national websites. Currently, he works as a correspondent for the Morris Daily Herald in addition to covering the Chicago Bears for quadrust.com. You can follow him on Twitter @ryan_wooden.