The first sign that Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack’s sprained right ankle wouldn’t prevent him from practicing for the game against the Lions arrived via the team’s Instagram account Sunday.
Mack was captured on the sideline in a short video, celebrating outside linebacker Leonard Floyd’s interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter of the Bears’ 41-9 drubbing of the Bills. Mack hugged Floyd and jumped around in a circle with him.
It was confirmation that Mack, caught in a moment of jubilation, was OK — or closer to it. Mack also played catch and ran around on the field for a second consecutive week before the game.
“He loves to see his teammates do well,” outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley said. “He respects good football. So when people perform well to their ability, that fires him up, too. That’s one of those intangibles that he brings to our team that you can’t understate at all.”
While the focus this week naturally is on the expected returns of Mack and top wide receiver Allen Robinson against the Lions, the Bears’ accomplishments without them shouldn’t be overlooked.
It’s not just that the Bears beat the Jets and Bills without Mack and Robinson; it’s that the Bears believed they didn’t need them to prevail.
A year ago, losing wide receiver Cam Meredith in the preseason proved to be catastrophic for the Bears’ offense, particularly for quarterback Mike Glennon.
The defense also struggled to make up for the absences of Floyd (the Bears were 2-4 in games he missed) and inside linebacker Danny Trevathan (0-4).
This year, the Bears clearly implemented a plan to rest Mack and Robinson to preserve them for the second half of the season, which begins with three consecutive NFC North games and big dreams.
The plan for Mack and Robinson came about after the Bears allowed both to play through their respective injuries in a 38-31 loss to the Patriots. But it also speaks to where the Bears are at in general manager Ryan Pace’s rebuilding process.
The Bears have moved out of the league’s cellar, where the Jets and Bills reside. They’re squarely in the middle class with the potential of making another jump. That’s if Mack returns to form, Robinson produces again and quarterback Mitch Trubisky makes the needed steps in his development.
Let’s not underrate what Mack and Robinson mean to the Bears, either. Sitting them is not the same as sitting veteran guard Eric Kush because of stinger issues.
The Bears rested their best overall player and their best overall receiver. They account for 13.5 percent of their salary cap — or more than $24.8 million — this season.
Robinson said he knew early last week that he wouldn’t play against the Bills because of his groin injury. On Thursday, he said he was 100 percent and expected to play.
Consider it all part of the Bears’ plan. Mack and Robinson fully participated in practice on consecutive days this week.
“It’s very exciting for us,” Robinson said. “For me and Khalil, it would have definitely been tough on us not being able to be out there if we didn’t get the outcome that we wanted [and had] put ourselves in a pretty tough position. But being able to step back on the field, being 5-3 and still on top of the division, it’s definitely a blessing.”
It’s a boon, really.
The Bears have the best record in the division, and two of the best players in that division are expected to be back in the lineup.
“It’s big to get back as far as this time, as far as playing for something,” Robinson said. “You spend your whole training camp and whole season preparing for November and December football, hoping to get into January.”