It was finally fun again for the Bears’ defense, and the highlight of its exuberant afternoon was Khalil Mack performing his signature crowd-pleaser.
As Giants quarterback Daniel Jones dropped back — on a play that was doomed from the start with left tackle Nate Solder facing Mack with no help — the Bears’ most dangerous man ripped into the backfield. Mack swung his massive right arm like a sledgehammer just as Jones tried to throw, and the ball skipped freely toward the end zone.
Defensive lineman Nick Williams and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd went for it. Williams picked it up at the Giants’ 7-yard line and tried to barrel in for the touchdown, but Floyd rolled into him, and he fell at the 3.
“Nick was a little mad because he felt like somebody tripped him,” Mack said, laughing. “I’m not gonna say who, but . . .”
Everyone knew it was Floyd.
“OK, cool,” Mack said. “I ain’t gonna snitch, but it’s all good.”
Williams hadn’t quite gotten over it.
“I came around the corner, and I knew Mack was gonna get it out,” he said. “I just started looking at the ground to see where it was. I tried to score, but I got . . .”
He gave a long pause, then finished, “tripped up.”
It was the happiest they’ve been in weeks, jabbing each other after a 19-14 takedown of the Giants on Sunday.
It was a forgettable scuffle between floundering teams, but the Bears’ defense was a beacon of excellence in a sea of ineptitude. The season has gone completely sideways, but the defense is still elite.
The play by Mack and Williams set up a two-yard touchdown run by quarterback Mitch Trubisky to give the Bears a 19-7 lead in the third quarter.
It was Mack’s first sack in nearly a month and first turnover since the end of September. A week earlier, he played 46 snaps against the Rams without a statistic of any kind.
“They’ve been triple-teaming him, double-chipping — everything in the book,” safety Eddie Jackson said. “So when he gets a one-on-one, you see what he’s capable of doing. We’re gonna put our money on Mack every time in a one-on-one.”
The Giants ranked 24th in total offense coming into the game, but the Bears did their job. They dominated an inferior opponent the way they should.
They allowed their fourth-fewest yards of the season at 243, made life miserable for Jones and shut down running back Saquon Barkley.
“We’re just out there hunting, man,” Floyd said.
No opponent has rushed for more yards against the Bears’ defense in the last two years than Barkley with 125 last December — “That was in the back of our minds,” Jackson said — and they held him to 59 yards on 17 carries. Barkley spun his way to gains of 22 and 13 yards but got little else.
“Even though he was able to break some good runs down the stretch, all in all, you could say we stopped him,” Mack said. “That’s what we expect to do.”
The game was a harsh lesson for Jones, a rookie making his ninth career start. He completed 21 of 36 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns for an 86.6 passer rating.
The Giants got going a little in the second quarter with a short touchdown drive, had two reasonable field-goal attempts — both misses — and led 7-3 at halftime. Jones resurfaced in the fourth to cap a 97-yard drive by hitting Golden Tate in the end zone for 23 yards to exploit a mental mistake by Jackson.
“I’m still mad about giving them that one late, but it doesn’t matter how you come across wins in this league,” Mack said.
True. The Bears certainly can’t be picky about style points. But those were mere hiccups on an otherwise sparkling day by the defense. It’s the one part of this team that can’t be questioned.