‘We had to put him on our back’: Bears’ defense dominates without Khalil Mack

SHARE ‘We had to put him on our back’: Bears’ defense dominates without Khalil Mack

Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks tackles Jets running back Isaiah Crowell. Nam Y. Huh/AP photo

There’s life after outside linebacker Khalil Mack.

It might not be as thrilling as it is with him, but it was more than enough in the Bears’ 24-10 victory Sunday against the Jets at Soldier Field.

There might not be a single Bears defensive play that pops up on national highlight shows. The defense failed to intercept a pass for the first game this season. For the second time in as many games, it had only one sack. But after giving up a combined 69 points in the last two games, it returned to something approximating its first-month dominance. Or at least its solid play of last season.

‘‘Don’t forget, we were a top-10 defense before [Mack],’’ defensive end Akiem Hicks said.

Mack missed a game for the first time in his career because of an injury to his right ankle suffered two weeks ago. He might return next week.

His teammates sensed Mack might sit when he didn’t participate in the mock game Saturday. Then they set out to set the tone Sunday.

‘‘The different vibe was because we were kicking people’s asses in the run,’’ said outside linebacker Aaron Lynch, who started in Mack’s place.

Jets running back Isaiah Crowell, who put up an NFL season-high 219 rushing yards in a game this month, had 13 carries for 25 yards. The Bears still haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown this season, the longest stretch to start a season in franchise history. Only one of the Jets’ first 12 runs went for more than four yards.

‘‘If a team gets the momentum and feels like they can topple you and run over you all day, they’re going to keep doing it,’’ Hicks said. ‘‘If you shut that down early, that lets them know that you’re here to play. . . .

‘‘When they scheme runs to run against your defense and you smack them in the mouth, it’s a real tone-setter. And they don’t forget it.’’


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With Mack wearing a fuzzy hat on the sideline, the Bears’ defense reminded the Jets that it’s more than just its $141 million man. It forced punts on seven of the Jets’ first eight series — six after three-and-outs — and allowed one play of more than 20 yards, a 29-yard pass from rookie Sam Darnold (14-for-29, 153 yards) to Deontay Burnett in the fourth quarter.

‘‘It proves the next-man-up theory works,’’ outside linebacker Leonard Floyd said. ‘‘We just came up knowing we didn’t have Mack today. We all went out with a purpose, and that’s to stop the run and get them out of their comfort zone and let our offense do what they do.’’

It took quarterback Mitch Trubisky awhile to comply. The Bears’ only points of the first half came on his screen pass to running back Tarik Cohen, who sneaked out of the backfield against an ill-timed Jets blitz. Cohen was untouched on his 70-yard catch-and-run, helped by receiver Taylor Gabriel’s block down the left sideline.

The Bears led 7-3 at halftime. The teams traded punts to start the second half before Trubisky jump-started the Bears with his legs. On third-and-10 from the Bears’ 45, Trubisky scrambled to the sticks for a first down. After

Cohen ran for 21 yards over left tackle, Trubisky ran for nine more to move the Bears to the Jets’ 15.

Four plays later, on third-and-goal from the 4, Trubisky threw to receiver Anthony Miller in the back of the end zone to give the Bears a 14-3 lead. Cody Parkey’s 32-yard field goal to start the fourth quarter extended their lead to 17-3.

The Jets’ only touchdown came after safety Eddie Jackson was whistled for unnecessary roughness on third down. That led to Burnett’s 29-yard catch and, two plays later, to Darnold’s 16-yard touchdown pass to Chris Herndon.

It took the Bears only four minutes to counter with a two-yard touchdown run by Jordan Howard that iced the game.

Hicks joked he didn’t need defensive highlights — ‘‘I get my style points after the fact,’’ he said — and Jackson said the victory was a fitting tribute to Mack.

‘‘We knew we had to put him on our back and come out and play,’’ Jackson said.

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