“Next man up” is the pragmatic, blunt and somewhat cold term football coaches like to use when a player gets hurt.
“We’ve lived on that since we’ve been here,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Friday. “And the players believe in that. So that’s how we roll.”
They don’t cancel schedules because of injuries, after all, and it’s up to Reid to demonstrate that resolve and keep the operation moving.
Plus, part of sports is persevering through adversity and understanding that the individual is part of something bigger than himself.
But teams are also defined by the sum of their parts. Especially the most indispensable ones and those who make everyone else better.
That’s why the loss of safety Eric Berry for the season affixes an asterisk on an otherwise exhilarating 42-27 victory over the defending Super Bowl-champion Patriots on Thursday at Gillette Stadium.
Part of the reason the Chiefs were relatively subdued afterward was that they understand this was just one game.
But maybe a bigger part was that the acute pain of losing Berry rendered raucous celebration inappropriate.
So even as Reid knows his team has to move ahead, knows “next man up” has to prevail, he is careful to say this is something different, too.
“You’re not going to replace Eric Berry with another Eric Berry,” Reid conceded. “That’s not what happens.”
While it wasn’t certain until Reid announced Friday afternoon that Berry had suffered a ruptured Achilles’ tendon, it was hard to think this would end well from the moment in the fourth quarter that Berry went down.
It also immediately was easy to see how this wasn’t the subtraction of just another cog.
Berry is substantially more, both because of his sheer game and almost spiritual impact on all around him as their most vocal leader, and a cancer survivor.
With his helmet off and numb resignation on his face, Berry simply sat down on the field with his legs before him.
That told something in itself: The scene was eerily similar to the posture and demeanor of linebacker Derrick Johnson one of the two times he suffered the same basic injury two of the last three seasons.
Teammates surrounded Berry when he went on the cart, and coaches and other staff gently tousled his hair or hugged him. Cornerback Marcus Peters buried his head in his arms as he understood what was happening.
So it’s perhaps further testament to Berry’s force of will that the team didn’t sag after he left the game. Reid suggested as much, and believes that Berry communicated that vibe even after he was carted off.
If anyone could simply cast an aura over his teammates, it would be him.
Berry even addressed the team in the locker room afterward, Reid said, reiterating the point that “he’d be very disappointed if anybody hung their head or let (his injury) be an issue” going forward.
Still, even as the Chiefs were making an undeniable early statement that their prospects this season should be taken seriously, they were left to cope with a gut-punch after a game in which Berry had played a key role.
That included the fourth-down stop in the first quarter that changed the complexion of the game.
It’s a legitimate question to ponder whether you’d like the Chiefs’ long-term chances this season better if they had yet to play and Berry were healthy … or because of this monumental win but knowing he’s out.
Nevertheless, now it’s … next man up.
The likely candidates, Reid said, are Eric Murray and Daniel Sorensen, though he acknowledged general manager Brett Veach will be keeping his eyes open for other options.
Meanwhile, Reid also is right when he reminds folks that it’s a team game, and that means all are called upon to rally now.
However they manage, there is no good news in this for the Chiefs or Berry, who didn’t play in any preseason games this summer because of a heel injury.
But if you’re one of the legion of Berry fans, perhaps there is comfort in knowing he has contended with worse things and returned to thrive.
Since his remarkable recovery from Hodgkin lymphoma, a fine case can be made that Berry was better than ever last season.
The inspiring comeback meant more influence than ever inside the locker room … and well beyond, to people fighting cancer themselves who saw hope in Berry’s recovery.
All of that is why last year the Chiefs gave a six-year, $78 million deal to Berry.
All of that is why you can have faith he’ll return next year.
As for the present, maybe Berry yet can play a meaningful role this season. Between the guru status he enjoys with his peers and the fact that even amid the agony of his injury he made it a point to be part of the postgame scene, Reid half-joked that this would be a good time for him to see if he likes coaching.
Even if not formally so, Berry figures to be a factor when it comes to offering guidance and support.
When you get right down to it, in fact, the Chiefs may need that more out of him than he needs it out of them.
Often, an injured player can only offer so much meaningful engagement. Sometimes, teams don’t even seem to want them around because they’re suddenly non-essential or distractions.
It’s the nature of a game in which next man up is the harsh reality.
But Berry is a unique force whose presence is as powerful as his tackling, and the Chiefs should do all they can to encourage and harness that.
Because if the Chiefs are to have the sort of season that Thursday indicated they might, it would help to have their heart and soul remain in the middle of it all even as others try to fill in for him on the field.
“The Eric Berrys,” Reid said, “only come around every once in a while.”