Khalil Mack’s relationship with the Raiders couldn’t be clearer: He thinks they undervalued him, and they’ve been determined to show him they were right.
And Mack will never let that go.
Regardless of how much time has passed, how little the Bears and Raiders have to do with each other playing in opposite conferences and the fact that they’ve moved since he played for them, Mack’s adrenaline spikes to a new level against his old team.
“Would it be human nature to you?” he asked rhetorically. “That’s what I’m saying.”
Mack gets his second shot at the Raiders when the Bears visit Las Vegas on Sunday, and he’s not even trying to hide his increased incentive with a canned answer about every opponent being the same. His grudge — particularly against coach Jon Gruden, it seems — has only intensified since the Raiders refused to meet his contract demands and traded him to the Bears for two first-round picks in 2018.
The memory of facing the Raiders in London two years ago was fresh in Mack’s mind as he prepared to face them this week.
Most opponents prioritize Mack, but Gruden bombarded him with blockers beyond the usual schemes Mack sees. That felt personal — and it was effective. Mack had no sacks and only three tackles as the Raiders won and sent the Bears’ season spiraling.
“You understand what they wanted to do and the message they wanted to send,” Mack said Friday. “It’s our job to know what type of team we’re going against and knowing the attitude of the head coach that’s over there.”
When asked if he thought Gruden went out of his way to take him out of that 2019 game, Mack said, “Yeah. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.”
Gruden has often tried to downplay the beef and bristled at repeated questions about Mack ahead of the London trip by saying, “We wanted to sign Mack, OK? We didn’t want to trade him. I wish him the best. I’m not rehashing all the drama.”
Mack didn’t dance around anything that week, saying he intended to “make them pay for it” and describing his mood as vindictive.
He gets another chance Sunday to assert his counterargument that he was worth every penny of the six-year, $141 million deal he landed with the Bears after the trade. Despite a sprained foot that continues to keep him out of practice and a more recent rib injury, he expects to play regardless of being listed as questionable on the injury report.
He’ll even be a captain, as the Bears back his bid to make Gruden regret losing him.
There’s no doubt Gruden missed him that first season, when Mack ripped through the NFL for 12œ sacks, six forced fumbles, an interception and All-Pro honors. He has been quieter since, however, and dropped to 8œ sacks in 2019 and nine last season.
Part of the problem was that he didn’t have much help, illustrated perfectly by the fact that no one else had a sack in that London game as Gruden fixated on Mack, but the Bears have found the solution with fellow outside linebacker Robert Quinn’s resurgence. Quinn has 4œ sacks and Mack has four as the defense leads the NFL with 15.
If the Raiders key on Mack again, which Quinn anticipates them doing, it’ll probably be a fun afternoon for Quinn.
“Everyone knows Mack and what he brings,” Quinn said in his typical modesty. “I’m just out here trying to do my part.”
With the 2019 game still eating at him, Mack seems like he’d welcome Gruden taking another shot at him. Bring the double-teams and triple-teams all day.
“I don’t care what they do,” Mack said. “I just know I’ll be ready for it.”