The Bears have to brace themselves for the possibility of Brian Urlacher missing at least the rest of the regular season.
Multiple sources told the Tribune that Urlacher won't play for the next three games at a minimum after suffering a Grade 2 right hamstring strain during Sunday's 23-17 overtime loss to the Seahawks. An MRI confirmed the severity of Urlacher's injury.
Nick Roach is expected to make his fourth career start at middle linebacker Sunday in place of Urlacher, with Geno Hayes expected to take Roach's usual strong-side linebacker spot.
The Bears (8-4) have four more regular-season games, starting with Sunday's division matchup against the Vikings in Minnesota. Urlacher hopes to recover in time for the playoffs, which start with wild-card weekend games Jan. 5-6.
If the playoffs started today, the Bears would be the fifth seed against the fourth-seeded and NFC East-leading Giants (7-5). To remain in playoff contention, the Bears need to win at least two of their final four games against the Vikings (6-6), Packers (8-4), Cardinals (4-8), and Lions (4-8).
Urlacher's return in a month, however, might be a long shot considering the severity of the injury.
Gus Gialamas, an orthopedic surgeon from Sea View Orthopedic Medical Group in San Clemente, Calif., said a Grade 2 hamstring typically takes four to six weeks of recovery.
"Grade 2 means it's not a complete rupture, but it's a partial rupture,'' Gialamas said. "It takes a while -- maybe a week to 10 days -- for the inflammation to stop. That muscle then has to heal, and then you have a lot of physical therapy for strengthening and stretching. The goal is to avoid as much scar tissue in the hamstring as possible.
"I'm thinking he would be lucky to come back in four weeks, and I wouldn't be surprised if it was longer than that. It's just a tough injury.''
When reached by the Tribune, Urlacher declined to discuss the injury or his playing status. He initially felt a "pop'' while chasing Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson near the sideline during overtime. Urlacher pulled himself from the game before the final play.
He told WFLD-Ch. 32 this injury isn't as serious as a similar one in preseason of 2004 with which he missed seven games.
"I did that on the first day of training camp and that MRI showed more damaged back then than it did this time," he said.
The eight-time Pro Bowler entered the 2012 season recovering from a serious knee injury. He sprained the medial collateral ligament and partially sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during last year's season finale against the Vikings.
Despite sitting out some practices to rest his knee, Urlacher started the first 12 games.
The Bears are 7-15 without Urlacher since he entered the league in 2000.
"He's the leader of our defense,'' defensive tackle Henry Melton said Tuesday. "He's a huge locker room guy. We love having him around. He's what Chicago Bears football is all about.''
Nevertheless, Melton expressed confidence in Roach.
"Nick has been rotating (at middle linebacker in practice) just in case measures called for it,'' Melton said. "It's not going to be the same without Brian, of course. But Nick can get the job done.''
The 34-year-old Urlacher has a base salary of $7.5 million in this, the final year of his contract. He expressed a desire to play at least two more seasons, depending on his health. His says his knee feels better than ever after multiple procedures. Now, it's a matter of how long the hamstring strain lingers.
General manager Phil Emery wouldn't commit to re-signing Urlacher and said any contract offers would be based on performance.
Could Urlacher have played his last game with the Bears?
"I do not think that's going to happen,'' he told Ch. 32. "But, if it does, I have had a really good and long career so I would be sad, but I would not be crushed."
Urlacher has made a statement this season with a team-leading 88 tackles, one interception return for a touchdown, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. He was named the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week following his Week 9 performance against the Titans.
The club re-signed Dom DeCicco to the 53-man roster to add depth at the linebacker position, bringing him back three months after he was released with an injury settlement (groin). He took Patrick Trahan's spot, who was released on Tuesday.
DeCicco was second on the team with 17 special-teams tackles as an undrafted free agent from Pitt a year ago. He did play middle linebacker during training camp when Urlacher was sidelined with his knee issue.
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