For most of the afternoon, Chris Long and Kyle Long were like cars hurtling at one another with great force, but separated by a full lane. Regardless of that, it wasn't just another set of anonymous face masks across the line on this day for the Eagles left defensive end and the right guard of the Chicago Bears.
"It would be really weird if he was lined up right in front of me," Chris Long said after the Eagles humiliated the Bears, 31-3, with the defense limiting one of the best statistical rushing offenses in the league to just six yards. "Luckily, we don't have to deal with each other much, but it's odd because he's one of my best friends. I look across at him and I know what he's going through. He knows what I'm going through. At the end of the day, we're lucky."
This season, it's a lot luckier to be the 32-year-old Chris, whose team is now 10-1 and on a nine-game winning streak. For 29-year-old Kyle, the 6-foot-6, 313-pound baby brother, slogging along with 3-8 Bears despite dealing with a partially torn labrum, two dislocated fingers, a torn tendon in his hand, and a reconstructed ankle isn't in quite as lucky a spot.
"I'm proud of him," Chris Long said. "It's not easy playing in this league. I've been there and I've played hurt before and I know what it's like. He's struggling, but he's pushing through. I'm proud, but more than anything, you never know the last time you'll play against your brother. It goes just like that. I remember when he was a rookie."
This was the third time the Long brothers, sons of former Villanova and NFL star Howie Long, have played against each other. Maybe it was the last. If so, Kyle Long took advantage of the opportunity.
"I got to hit him a couple times, put my hands on him and trade some verbal barbs. You want to keep it light, but it's a rare opportunity and you want to make the most of it," Kyle Long said. "One time, they ran a stunt and Bobby [right tackle Bobby Massie] passed him to me. I saw that he was going to the ground. I didn't apologize. I just kind of laid on top of him and I said, 'I love you.' And he said it back, actually — which was pretty cool."
There might have been an equal number of Longs on each side of the line, but there was nothing else that was even-up about this game. The Bears came in averaging 132 rushing yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry, but left with just those six lonely yards and an 0.4 per carry average.
"They played a great game. Credit to them. That's one of the best defenses I've ever played," Kyle Long said. "Playing against your brother is something you have to think about. For eight, nine years, I watched him and his defense struggle to win games and I know he pours his heart and soul into the game. Last year, he got an opportunity with New England to go to a Super Bowl, and now he's part of a monster defense. They say it's always darkest before the dawn and it holds true with him. It's special."
Chris Long was the second overall pick in the 2008 draft and played his first eight seasons with the St. Louis Rams. In that span, the Rams didn't have a single winning season, won two or fewer game in three different seasons, and compiled an overall 39-88-1 record. He got a one-year free-agent shot with the Pats that did, in fact, end with a Super Bowl win, and now he's part of a defensive line rotation that has been relentless.
"They've dismantled really good teams this season," Kyle Long said. "[Fletcher] Cox is a very good player, then you add [Tim] Jernigan, who does a great job against the run and the pass. Brandon Graham is very capable of lining up on the inside and outside. They are two-deep at every position, and they've got this guy, 56 [Chris Long], who does a real good job, too. Credit their defense. Credit their defensive coordinator. They play really hard and they're really talented."
"It's good to hear that from someone on another team," Chris Long said. "That's the reputation we want. We do believe our defense is the cream of the crop and able to compete with anybody. We're not shy about it. That's our goal."
That's good to hear even if it does come from your brother, who is one of your best friends and remembers to say he loves you even when he's holding you to the ground.
Football is funny like that. Friends and family collide on the field sometimes. Chris Long knows how it feels to have the game knock you down for years at a time. It might be only one Chicago Bear who feels this way right now — in fact, it is exactly one — but one of them walked away from Sunday's game happy for him that things are finally going his way.