The first time Khalil Mack went to Lambeau Field as a member of the Bears, he made history. In the first half of the 2018 season opener — eight days after the Bears traded for him — Mack strip-sacked quarterback DeShone Kizer and later intercepted a screen pass that he returned 27 yards for a touchdown.
The Bears had just acquired one of the NFL’s best two defenders in his prime. Fans would be forgiven for thinking there’d be many more similar performances yet to come.
Mack’s most recent game at Lambeau Field, though, was anything but dynamic. The Bears never touched quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Mack didn’t post a single pressure, per NFL Next Gen Stats — the second time that’s happened in his last three games.
“Very frustrating from my standpoint,” Mack said. “That’s something that I take personally.”
Through 11 games, Mack is tied for 15th in the NFL with 6½ sacks. That’s two fewer than he posted all last year but nowhere near the 12½ he totaled in 2018.
“I’m not worried about my stats,” Mack said minutes after the Bears’ 41-25 loss to their rivals Sunday night. “My game speaks for itself.
“It’s not really about me. I want to win. I know they’re going to come when they come and that’s always going to be my mindset — to do everything I can to help this team win games. Obviously getting to the quarterback is what I’m here for, and I definitely have to do that.”
The Bears, though, aren’t winning. That makes Mack the equivalent of a maitre d’ at McDonald’s — a fancy, expensive thing that doesn’t fit the reality of the moment.
The analytics set thinks Mack is having a standout season. Pro Football Focus ranks him as the second-best edge rusher in the game, behind only the Steelers’ T.J. Watt. PFF put Mack on its midseason all-star team, saying he is “playing as well as he ever has.”
It doesn’t matter, though, unless it translates to team success. And it hasn’t.
Robert Quinn, whom the Bears paid $70 million this offseason, has one sack while lining up across from Mack. The Bears have 21 sacks overall, which ranks 20th in the league.
This can’t be what the Bears envisioned in 2018, when they made what they thought was a franchise-altering trade — and then signed Mack to a six-year, $141 million contract that made him the highest-paid defender ever.
It was a no-brainer at the time — the kind of loud, expensive move that makes sense only when a team believes it’s in the middle of a championship window.
Two-and-a-half years later, the Bears have one playoff appearance — and zero playoff wins — to show for it. Barring a miraculous turnaround, they won’t add to either total this year.
The Raiders — whose trade haul was highlighted by first-round picks Josh Jacobs and Damon Arnette — are one game out of the final wild-card spot, as are the Bears. But they have financial flexibility; the Bears, who seem headed for a rebuild, don’t.
The Bears certainly won’t cut Mack. He has a $26.6 million cap number in 2021 and a $43.4 million dead cap hit if he’s cut in a post-June 1 move, per OvertheCap.com. The Bears would owe less money if they traded him with a post-June 1 designation, but that would require the general manager — Ryan Pace or someone new — to admit that being a contender is miles down the road.
Not that Mack is ready to give up on this season. He is frustrated by the Bears’ five-game losing streak, and their performance Sunday night.
“You gotta understand this situation, get ready for next week,” he said. “Throw this one in the trash. Get ready.”
Mack will be.
“All Khalil wants to do is, playing well and winning games,” outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino said. “Another challenge is nothing he would ever shy away from.”