The defending NFC champion Chicago Bears have lost two defensive starters, free safety Mike Brown and nose tackle Dusty Dvoracek, to season-ending knee injuries sustained in the team's opening-day defeat at San Diego on Sunday afternoon.
Follow-up MRI examinations on both players confirmed on Monday that both have suffered ligament damage to their left knees. Bears officials had feared as much on Sunday evening.
Brown was placed on injured reserve Monday with a ruptured
anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
It's the third season-ending injury in four years for Brown, the
soul of the Bears' secondary. Joining Brown on injured reserve was
Dvoracek, who also ruptured his
left ACL in Sunday's 14-3 loss.
"Mike has gone through a lot," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's our team
leader, great guy, competitor. We all feel for him. If I continue
to talk about it, I could get emotional just knowing what Mike
Brown has gone through to get himself back in position to play."
The loss of Brown is particularly devastating since this will mark the fourth year in a row in which the star-crossed defensive back will miss significant playing time, and the third time in four seasons that his campaign ended prematurely with him on the injured reserve list. It will increase to 43 the number of games that Brown has missed in the past four years.
Fearing the worst, Brown, 29, was emotionally distraught in the Chicago locker room on Sunday evening, after injuring his knee with 10 minutes remaining in the game. He called the injury "another sad day in the chapter of my football career."
Said Brown, who is recognized as the emotional leader of the Chicago secondary, and a safety who specialized in big, game-altering plays early in his career: "It's a shame. It hurts my feelings really bad."
The injury happened in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss on a
shot from Chargers fullback Lorenzo Neal.
Smith sidestepped questions on Monday about the play involving
Neal, saying: "There probably should have been penalties on a lot
of plays out there that happened on the football field -- on them
and on us. The officials did a good job. You can't get
Will the Bears send video of that play to the league?
"Every play that we feel is missed, we send to the league,"
said Smith, who would not say if that play was one of them.
Brown missed 14 games in 2004 with a ruptured Achilles tendon, four in 2005 because of a severely strained calf, and 10 last season with a Lisfranc foot sprain. The former Nebraska star never missed a game the first four seasons of his NFL tenure (2000-03), but has not played a full season since 2003.
The former Pro Bowl performer (2005) moved from strong safety to free safety this spring to accommodate the Bears' acquisition of Adam Archuleta in a trade, and had a strong training camp. Before the injury on Sunday, he was authoring an excellent game, with four tackles, an interception that set up Chicago's only score, two passes defensed and a fumble recovery that rebuffed a San Diego scoring opportunity.
For his career, Brown, a second-round choice in the 2000 draft, has 304 tackles, four sacks, 15 interceptions, 22 passes defensed, and four forced fumbles.
Manning started 14 games as a rookie in 2006. Walker was acquired last month in a trade with the Buffalo Bills.
Dvoracek, 24, missed his entire 2006 rookie season when he was placed on injured reserve with a foot injury sustained in preseason. His starting assignment on Sunday represented the first appearance of his career, and he had two tackles before his injury.
A third-round choice, the former Oklahoma standout won the starting job in training camp this summer, filling the void left by the Bears' release of suspended nose tackle Tank Johnson.
Senior writer Len Pasquarelli covers the NFL for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.