Anthony Hitchens stopped on his slow walk off the field and doubled over.
After a few seconds, the linebacker continued his assisted trudge toward the sideline.
Hitchens never returned to the Chiefs’ 30-23 win against the Broncos on Sunday afternoon, heading to the locker room with about eight minutes left in the fourth quarter.
After the game, coach Andy Reid said Hitchens took a helmet to the ribs when he tried to tackle Denver running back Phillip Lindsay in the fourth quarter. Chiefs rookie linebacker Breeland Speaks stepped in to help tackle, but he ended up landing on Hitchens.
Despite a report from NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport that Hitchens has severely bruised ribs and is considered week-to-week, Reid said early indications of Hitchens’ injury were positive.
“We’ve done a couple of preliminary things last night and it looked like we’re heading in the right direction,” Reid said. “Although I’m sure he’ll be a little sore as we go.”
Rookie linebacker Ben Niemann came off the bench in Hitchens’ absence on Sunday. Niemann, who made the team as an undrafted free agent after a solid preseason, hasn’t seen much action on defense. He injured a hamstring in the season opener and missed the next two games. But even with Neimann’s limited experience, Reid expressed confidence in his young linebacker.
“Ben’s done a nice job,” Reid said. “Smart kid. Coach’s kid. He doesn’t say much, but I like the way he goes about his business. The way he talks and when he makes calls, people listen. He’s done a nice job. … So I think everybody has confidence if that comes about. Hopefully Hitch will be OK. I’m not saying Hitch isn’t OK.”
Hitchens, who had three tackles on Sunday, was one of the Chiefs’ major offseason acquisitions. Brought in from Dallas, Hitchens was supposed to be one part of a stout inside linebacker tandem meant to bolster the Chiefs’ run defense. He was a steady presence earlier in the season, but he’s looked hesitant in recent weeks. The Chiefs have one of the worst rushing defenses in the NFL, allowing a league-worst 5.4 yards per carry and 127.6 yards per game.
Hitchens is the latest Chiefs linebacker with a potentially serious injury. The Chiefs entered the game without inside linebacker Terrance Smith, who tore his ACL a week ago. That forced rookie Dorian O’Daniel to play even more against the Broncos. He finished with 28 defensive snaps and three tackles, including one for loss.
On the outside, linebacker Frank Zombo left Sunday’s game because of a hamstring injury, and Reid called it “the most concerning” injury of the game.
Fellow outside linebacker Justin Houston hasn’t played since the Week 5 game against Jacksonville because of a hamstring injury, while Tanoh Kpassagnon missed a couple of weeks as he nursed an ankle injury. Though Houston was still out on Sunday, Kpassagnon played eight snaps on defense and recorded a big third-down stop as he tackled Emmanuel Sanders for a 6-yard loss and pushed the Broncos out of field-goal range.
In other injury news, Chiefs owner and CEO Clark Hunt talked Monday afternoon and was asked about safety Eric Berry’s plan.
Berry, who hasn’t practiced since Aug. 11 during training camp in St. Joseph, is still being held out because of a sore heel.
“It literally is day-to-day,” he said. “I do know that nobody is working harder at his rehab than Eric. Eric is a young man who loves the game of football and wants to be out there on the field and as soon as he feels he’s ready, he’s going to be out there.”
Hunt was non-committal when asked if there was an expectation that Berry was going to play this season.
“I really don’t have an expectation,” he said. “That’s a decision that Eric along with our medical staff is going to have to make. I don’t want to step in front of that.”