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Things could go either way, Bears fans

Khalil Mack and the defense offer Super Bowl hope, but the quarterback question still needs an answer.

Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack might be the most dominant defensive force in the NFL since Lawrence Taylor.
Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack might be the most dominant defensive force in the NFL since Lawrence Taylor.
Rob Carr/Getty Images

Since their embarrassing season-opening loss to the Packers, the Bears have changed direction.

They’re at a crossroads, in a sense, with their three consecutive victories just about canceling out the mysterious ineptitude of that 10-3 home-field surrender.

Crossroads always give folks pause. Which way are we going here, boss?

But just when it seemed Aaron Rodgers and his mates once again were dumping the Bears into also-ran status, here came the victories.

And then the Packers lost 34-27 to the Eagles on Thursday at Lambeau Field, and — voila! — the Bears are tied with them atop the NFC North.

In that Packers loss, the great Rodgers threw for an excellent 422 yards and two touchdowns. But his lone interception came on a deflection in the Eagles’ end zone with seconds remaining and sealed the defeat.

Interestingly, former Bears running back Jordan Howard, now with the Eagles, rushed for 87 yards and scored three touchdowns, the final one breaking a 27-27 tie in the first minute of the fourth quarter. Howard’s performance made a few people in Chicago wonder about the wisdom of the Bears dumping him for a sixth-round draft pick and drafting rookie David Montgomery to replace him.

But I digress.

What we’ve got here is a Bears team that could fade to average or skyrocket to something special.

The comparisons with the 1985 Super Bowl champion Bears are beginning to pop up, and they’re not frothy or dumb. This 2019 defense, led by the transcendent Khalil Mack, has a lot in common with that Super Bowl XX defense.

Mack reminds this observer of a hybrid of Richard Dent, Dan Hampton and Mike Singletary, all Hall of Famers. Mack, storming in from his outside linebacker position with so much speed and strength, is beginning to terrify quarterbacks the way perhaps only Lawrence Taylor did. Or the combined Bears ‘‘46’’ defense under Buddy Ryan.

You’ll recall Taylor was so devastating for the Giants back in the day that teams in the NFC East basically loaded up with anti-ballistic missiles to stop him and him alone. Thus was the Redskins’ ‘‘Hogs’’ offensive line assembled.

So Mack vs. Taylor isn’t an idle comparison. Mack isn’t only a devastating one-man wrecking crew, he also is a catalyst for each player around him.

You can see the Bears’ defense absorbing the energy he brings, as though his intuitive frenzy is some sort of pixie dust sprinkled from above.

‘‘I don’t know how to describe it,’’ Mack said Tuesday at Halas Hall.

He was pondering the energy and confidence the defense has assimilated, mainly from him, though he wasn’t talking about himself. He was thinking quietly and without any lunacy.

‘‘Chicago’s kind of contagious,’’ he said, meaning the fervor of the Bears’ defense. ‘‘Kind of one of those energies that you catch.’’

Think of it: The Bears’ defense has allowed 45 points in four games this season, roughly 11 points a game. In an era in which offenses are the only side catered to, this is astounding.

You can ride such a pony all the way to the championship game in Miami in February. And, in truth, the Bears would need to if this is to be their year.

We haven’t even mentioned the unsettled quarterback position, which is as important to the Bears’ future as the throttling of other teams’ offenses. Chase Daniel is a serviceable journeyman quarterback who already has shown more game moxie than now-injured starter Mitch Trubisky.

But there always comes a time in the season when a quarterback must win a game, not just manage it. Daniel can manage, but can he win?

Trubisky is on the clock to determine whether he is anything special or just another placeholder until the next Bears quarterback hope comes along. His dislocated left (non-throwing) shoulder might signal the end of his training or the start of his demise.

I’m less than optimistic.

In fact, the Bears could have a mess on their hands when Trubisky is healed. If Daniel has done well, do you simply hand Trubisky the car keys and say, ‘‘It’s always been your vehicle,’’ or do you, as they say, keep dancing with one who brung you?

It’s a crossroads, for sure.

And crossroads can lead anywhere.