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A refreshed Khalil Mack has one goal: ‘You only have fun when you’re winning’

The Bears’ defense was on the field for 42 plays in Sunday’s loss to the Chargers. Since the NFL-AFL merger, a Bears defense had taken fewer snaps only three times — and none of those three has come since 1994.

Los Angeles Chargers v Chicago Bears
Khalil Mack pressures Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers on Sunday.
Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

Khalil Mack couldn’t understand why his body didn’t hurt as much as it usually does.

“I was trying to figure out why I felt . . . the way I did Monday,” the Bears’ star outside linebacker said Friday.

Eventually, he realized why: The Bears’ defense was on the field for 42 plays in the loss to the Chargers. Since the NFL-AFL merger, a Bears defense has taken fewer snaps only three times, and none of those have come since 1994.

Maybe, Mack said, there will be some carryover into Sunday’s game against the Eagles.

“It’s one of those situations,” Mack said, “where you use it to your advantage and get ready for the next week.”

Here’s one advantage Mack will have: The Eagles have ruled out left tackle Jason Peters, a nine-time Pro Bowl player, because of a knee injury. Rookie Andre Dillard, a first-round pick from Washington State, will start in his place for the third time in as many weeks.

“He’s a good player — I know he was a great player in college,” Mack said. “He can do some good things for them. It’s going to be cool, man.”

Dillard will have help. The opposing blockers always do against Mack — be it with chip-blocks, double-teams or, in some cases, triple teams.

“It’s something that I’m kind of used to, in a sense,” Mack said. “It just depends on how aggressive they’re going to be, early or late, later in the game. Just understand situational football and know what’s going to happen. Just learning as the season goes. But being ready for it is ultimately what I’ve been working on.”

It’s a grind.

“You mentally prepare for it,” he said. “You look at all the situations where they do it in the game, when they like to do it. So just getting ready for it, mentally and physically.”

Coach Matt Nagy said he hasn’t preached revenge after last year’s wild-card loss, but Mack wants to play better. In the loss to the Eagles, Mack had two quarterback hits and one tackle for loss but no sacks.

He’ll face a different quarterback this time around — Carson Wentz, who was injured last season and replaced by Nick Foles.

“He’s a hell of a quarterback, man,” Mack said. “He stays in the pocket, takes hits, real physical guy. A magician back there. He can duck and dodge and still make throws that a lot of quarterbacks don’t really make. You know that you’ve got your hands full this week playing against a guy like that.”

Mack posted his first sack in a month against the Chargers. The Bears allowed 17 points, but one touchdown came on a 26-yard drive.

“I wouldn’t say [the defense played] really well, just knowing what we’re capable of,” Mack said. “Obviously it’s gonna be huge for us to play great on defense and that’s all we can control. That’s all I can control.”

One year after leading the NFL in takeaways, the Bears are in a four-way tie for 13th place, with 11.

“It’s something that we work on every day in practice, and you’re gonna see it transpire in the game,” Mack said. “It’s gonna show up on film.”

The Bears need it to — soon.

“You only have fun when you’re winning,” Mack said. “That’s the whole point. We want to get back to having fun, and that starts with making plays and getting stops early and getting turnovers defensively. It’s going be a situation where we’re looking forward to it.”