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Bears star Khalil Mack out for the season

Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack will have season-ending foot surgery.

Chicago Bears v Las Vegas Raiders
Khalil Mack rushes the passer against the Raiders.
Photo by Chris Unger/Getty Images

Star linebacker Khalil Mack, whom the Bears hoped would lead them to their next era of defensive dominance, didn’t stockpile sacks the way they hoped he would when they traded for him in 2018. But the centerpiece of the defense always answered the bell, missing only two games over his first three seasons with the team.

He matched that number in his fourth year. An injury to his left foot sustained in the first quarter of the Bears’ Week 3 disaster in Cleveland only grew worse over the next month, causing Mack to miss the last two games.

Now he’ll miss the final eight, too.

Mack went on injured reserve Friday and will have season-ending foot surgery next week, coach Matt Nagy said. Mack’s foot has become increasingly painful, Nagy said — with the initial injury beginning to affect a toe as well — and there would have been a risk of more damage if he kept playing.

“I just know the big picture for him and for us is that he fought like hell to try to get through that pain that you have,” Nagy said. “There’s the medical side of it. It’s one thing to play through pain. It’s another thing to make it worse.”

Mack has spent large parts of his career playing through pain. Despite being listed as questionable 10 times last season with injuries to his knee, ankle, back (twice) and shoulder, he started every game and played on 83 percent of the Bears’ defensive snaps. Pro Football Focus gave him the highest season-long grade of any defensive player in football.

Nagy said on Oct. 27 — just over a month after Mack hurt his foot — that Mack was talking to doctors and trainers about how to proceed. But the Bears opted against putting him on injured reserve, giving the impression they believed he could return in time for Sunday’s game against the Ravens.

On Monday, outside linebackers coach Bill Shuey described Mack as “definitely anxious to get back,” particularly because the Bears lost their two games without him.

“He loves to compete,” Shuey said, “and this is hard.”

The additions of veteran linebackers Cassius Marsh before the Steelers game and Bruce Irvin on Friday offered some insight into Mack’s timeline. He hasn’t appeared at practice the last three game weeks.

“You try to handle things the right way,” Nagy said. “I know he’s frustrated because he’s such a competitor, but this is the best thing for him and the best situation to be able to help him out and get him fixed.”

Nagy said he had no regrets about Mack playing through the injury earlier this season. The day he hurt his foot against the Browns, Mack paced the sideline, not playing in the second quarter but returning in the second half.

“You just get to a point where you’re trying to play and make the right decision each week for him, strictly for him,” Nagy said. “And whatever he’s able to do for himself will help us if he can play.”

Mack started the season on fire, posting six sacks in seven games after finishing with nine in 16 games last season. His presence opened up opportunities for fellow outside linebacker Robert Quinn on the opposite side; Quinn has six sacks in eight games and is on pace for his most since 2013, when he led the NFL with 19.

Mack’s absence will be compounded against the Ravens by the absence of defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, who hurt his ankle before the bye week and will sit out. Safety Eddie Jackson, another former Pro Bowl player, is questionable with a hamstring injury. Inside linebacker Danny Trevathan, who struggled mightily this season and was relegated to a backup role, was also put on injured reserve Friday with a knee injury and is out for the year.

That’s a wave of attrition for a defense that sank from above average to ordinary in the first half of the season. But Mack — the six-time Pro Bowl player whom the Bears made the league’s highest-paid defensive player after trading for him in 2018 — is unquestionably the biggest name lost.

“There’s no way you can fill his shoes,” nose tackle Eddie Goldman said Friday. “But just try to get to the quarterback as much as you can.”

Irvin, 34, who has 52 career sacks, could help eventually. The Bears worked him out Thursday before signing him Friday. They’ll need to get him into game shape — he has appeared in only two games since the end of the 2019 season — and see if he has anything left. Nagy said practice “is the only place we can do it,” but the Bears won’t have a full-bore practice next week leading up to the Thanksgiving game against the Lions.

No one person will be able to replace Mack anyway.

“When you have a significant player like Khalil, the impact hits you harder, right?” Nagy said. “But for the most part, we have a group of guys that are fighters, that battle. And you felt that all week long.”