How Does Tim Jennings' Injury Affect Chicago Bears' Playoff Hopes?

Jesse ReedCorrespondent IDecember 2, 2012

CHICAGO, IL - NOVEMBER 25: Tim Jennings #26 of the Chicago Bears looks up at the replay board during a game against the Minnesota Vikings at Soldier Field on November 25, 2012 in Chicago, Illinois. The Bears defeated the Vikings 28-10. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Chicago Bears stalwart cornerback Tim Jennings left the team's Week 13 contest against the Seattle Seahawks in overtime with a shoulder injury; how will this effect the team's playoff chances?

Jennings suffered the injury when Seahawks fullback Michael Robinson collided violently with him, essentially running over Jennings on the way to an impressive 13-yard reception on a short pass from rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.

According to ESPN Chicago's Jeff Dickenson:

#Bears CB Tim Jennings (shoulder) was in some pain in the postgame locker room, but injury is not believed to be extremely serious.

— Jeff Dickerson (@ESPNChiBears) December 2, 2012


The franchise and its fans will surely be relieved if Dickenson's report turns out to be true. There will surely be tests upcoming to determine if there's something structurally wrong in Jennings' shoulder, and if it turns out he has to sit out, the Bears would be in trouble. 

The Bears run a relatively vanilla defense, meaning they don't rely on exotic blitzes and tricky coverage to fool quarterbacks. Instead, what the Bears do so effectively is that all 11 guys on defense do their job extremely well, and the players work well as a unit.

Jennings is a key cog in this machine. He has tallied eight interceptions and 19 passes defended in 12 games this year, and according to Pro Football Reference, he's allowing opposing quarterbacks a passer rating of just 44.1 when they throw his way.

If he's out for any extended period of time, the Bears would have to rely on Kelvin Hayden and Sherrick McManis to step up and fill the void left by one of the NFL's elite cornerbacks.

Hayden has been a starter in this league, most notably with the Indianapolis Colts from 2007 to 2010. He's a proven veteran who understands what it means to do his job within the constructs of team defense. 

He's no Jennings, though.

In Hayden's eight-year career, he has totaled 11 interceptions and 44 passes defended, and it's been almost two years since he started a game. 

McManis is a three-year veteran who has been a career backup, having never started a game. He's been a special teams contributor for the Houston Texans and Bears the past couple of seasons, and if he's pressed into duty, the Bears will be handicapped.

Jennings is an invaluable member of the Bears defense, which, when firing on all cylinders is one of the most dangerous defenses in the NFL. 

If his injury is more severe than the Bears believe, it'd be hard to make up for his loss. 

And if the team's defense is not able to continue playing up to the level we've seen most of the season, it'd be hard for Jay Cutler and the offense to make up the difference. 

The Bears need Jennings to be healthy in order to make a legitimate run at going deep in the playoffs. The Green Bay Packers won their game in Week 13, and the two teams are now tied atop the NFC North with records of 8-4. 

With three of four games remaining on the road—two of which are against divisional opponents, the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions—the path to the end of the 2012 season isn't paved with gold. 

After a painful loss at home to the Seattle Seahawks, the Bears will need to summon all their strength for this final push, and losing Jennings would make their task all the tougher. 

Let's hope, for the team's sake, he's able to play the rest of the way.


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