If Bears’ defense depends on Khalil Mack to be good, that’s a problem

SHARE If Bears’ defense depends on Khalil Mack to be good, that’s a problem

Bears linebacker Khalil Mack (52) tackles Buccaneers running back Peyton Barber for no gain in the first quarter of the Bears’ 48-10 victory Sunday at Soldier Field. Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Khalil Mack was in such a hurry to get his media obligation over with Friday and get back to preparation for Sunday’s game against the Patriots that he didn’t even have his shirt on when he entered the locker room and reporters approached him.

“Guys, give him a second to throw a shirt on,” a Bears media relations assistant told us.

“I gotta put a shirt on?” the bare-chested Mack asked, a little annoyed, before disregarding him.

“Go ahead, man,” he told reporters. “Talk. Two minutes. It ain’t gonna be long.”

“Do you feel you can play Sunday?”

“I ain’t answering questions like that,” Mack harrumphed.

“How did you get hurt?”

“It’s football. Anybody else?” Mack said, ready to leave just 20 seconds in.

“You’ve never missed a game. How close have you come to missing a game?”

“I ain’t talking about that, either,” Mack said.

And so it went, as Mack answered a few football questions and seemed to indicate he’s expecting to play Sunday after spraining his right ankle last week against the Dolphins.


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“I’m very confident that [Dolphins game] was an aberration,” he said when asked about the Bears allowing 541 yards and 31 points. “Yeah, yeah, yeah, that was an aberration. We’re looking forward to this week.”

Asked what this week has been for him — he didn’t practice Wednesday or Thursday and was limited Friday — Mack replied, “It’s been cool. It’s been cool. We’ve had a cool week. Just getting mentally prepared more so than physically. But just getting ready for the game.”

With our time clearly running out, we pulled the string on the last pitch: “What does it mean to you that you have never missed a game?” But Mack didn’t bite.

“Man, I’m not gonna talk about that, either,” he said. “It’s football. I’m gonna make sure I’m right. What’s the word? Anything else? Appreciate it.”

And that was that, leaving us to read some tea leaves to speculate that Mack figures to give it a shot against the Patriots. If he plays, it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be if he’s not 100 percent. He has been listed as questionable just once before in his five-year NFL career — in 2014 with a hamstring injury. He started for the Raiders that week and had two tackles and no impact plays in a 47-14 loss to the Broncos.

Mack’s status was an obvious major storyline this week, considering he’d had five sacks, four forced fumbles and an interception returned for a touchdown in four games with the Bears after missing training camp and the entire preseason with the Raiders. Already, the Bears have shown they have an elite defense when he’s healthy.

But the debacle against the Dolphins coinciding with Mack’s injury seemed to give the impression that the Bears’ defense suddenly depends on Mack being Mack. In reality, it was more heat-related than injury-related. Even with Mack hurt, the Bears allowed seven points and 154 yards in the first half — a bit of a disappointment against a backup quarterback and a shaky offensive line but still a credible performance. It wasn’t until the second half that everything went south.

No doubt Mack takes the Bears’ defense to another level. But the Bears had a top-10 defense without him last season — and added linebacker Roquan Smith. Even without Mack, this defense should be good enough to beat good teams. Sunday might give the Bears a chance to prove that.

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