Bears linebacker Pernell McPhee was shut out of the stat sheet in his 2016 debut against the Packers on Thursday night at Lambeau Field — not even an assisted tackle. And he didn’t make an impact to the naked eye or on film review. But just having McPhee on a football field again — and still standing when it was over — made the night a success.
“I was pleased,” Fox said about McPhee, who was limited to 19 defensive snaps after missing the first six games of the season following offseason knee surgery. “It’s been awhile since we’ve seen him live playing — no fault of anybody, including his. We had a pitch-count for him — he didn’t play a lot plays by design. But the ones he did play, I was impressed.”
The bar figures to be set a little bit higher — maybe a lot higher — in McPhee’s second game, against the Vikings on Monday night at Soldier Field. Fox said McPhee’s knee responded well to his first action since last season’s finale against the Lions on Jan. 3 — but was quick to point out that the 10-day break between games will help.
“This is kind of a mini-bye when you play that Thursday night game,” Fox said. “The downside obviously [is] it’s a rush on the front end. But you get a little gap on the back end of it. Plus going all the way to Monday does create kind of a mini-bye, which is good timing for us.”
Pending Thursday’s injury report — particularly cornerbacks Tracy Porter (knee) and Bryce Callahan (hamstring), the Bears’ defense has a chance to build some momentum for the second half after a hot-and-cold performance in a 26-10 loss to the Packers. The Bears stifled Aaron Rodgers in the first half, holding the Packers to two field goals. Their defense actually was outscoring the Packers 7-6 after linebacker Leonard Floyd’s strip-sack and fumble recovery in the end zone for a touchdown early in the third quarter.
But from that point, Rodgers seemed to will the Packers back to life — with back-to-back touchdown drives of 85 and 88 yards to regain the lead, plus a 74-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter that gave them a 26-10 lead. The Packers, who were averaging 3.7 yards per play (41-150) at the time of Floyd’s touchdown, averaged 6.4 yards per play (40-256) after Floyd’s touchdown.
With McPhee and Floyd expected to get expanded “pitch-counts,” and linebacker Danny Trevathan in his third game back from surgery to repair a sprained thumb ligament, the Bears have a chance to take another step forward against the Vikings, whose make-shift offensive line — starting tackles Matt Kalil and Andre Smith are on injured reserve — was exposed by the Eagles on Sunday. And nose tackle Eddie Goldman, who has missed the last five games with a high ankle sprain, could return after the bye week that follows the Vikings game.
The x-factor could be Floyd, who had two sacks and a quarterback pressure against the Packers and should be playing with confidence after spending most of his rookie season feeling his way through.
“I think it’s huge,” Fox said. “It’s hard to have confidence when good things don’t happen, so obviously when good things happen your confidence gets a little higher. So with a guy like Leonard, who’s as young as he is  and has been in and out much as he has [with injuries], I think that was a huge boost.”