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The unlikely MVP of the Bears’ 2021 season: OLB Robert Quinn

Quinn’s sack total is already the highest by a Bear since Khalil Mack in 2018 and ranks third in the NFL, trailing only the Browns’ Myles Garrett and the Steelers’ T.J. Watt. He has been everything critics said he couldn’t be.

Quinn leads the Bears with 11 sacks and three forced fumbles.
AP Photos

If Vegas had offered odds during the summer for Bears most valuable player in 2021, the favorite almost certainly would’ve been Khalil Mack or Allen Robinson.

Then there would be some worthwhile candidates behind them, such as David Montgomery and Roquan Smith and maybe Akiem Hicks or Darnell Mooney as dark-horse choices.

And near the bottom of the list, perhaps along the lines of 100-to-1, would be outside linebacker Robert Quinn — fresh off a season of injuries and minimal impact as everyone ridiculed the Bears for his five-year, $70 million contract.

That fictional betting slip would be about to pay off. The Bears’ gamble on Quinn looks like smart money, too. In a season of nonstop missteps and maladies, he has been their best player.

He looked like one of the worst signings of general manager Ryan Pace’s career with only two sacks in 548 snaps last season but has rebounded with a team-high 11 sacks and is on track to match the 19 sacks he had as an All-Pro eight years ago.

“The powers above woke me up and blessed me with some talents, then I just go out there and work hard and have the right mindset,” Quinn said with a shrug. “No matter what people say, just because you’re getting older [doesn’t] mean you become less of a player. I just go out there, work hard, practice hard, and I guess it’s starting to show.”

Quinn’s sack total is already the highest by a Bear since Mack in 2018 — if he gets to 13, he’ll have the most since Richard Dent in ’85 — and ranks third in the NFL, trailing only the Browns’ Myles Garrett and the Steelers’ T.J. Watt. He is a half-sack away from matching his 2019 output for the Cowboys that earned him that contract with the Bears.

The details make Quinn’s season even more impressive, though, and they illustrate the way he has been everything critics said he couldn’t be.

The big-picture impact of his poor performance last season was that it left Mack without anyone to divert the attention of opponents. Mack had to go it alone and managed only nine sacks.

Now it’s the other way around, however, and Quinn is producing even though Mack had season-ending foot surgery. He has 5½ sacks in the four games since Mack exited.

That speaks to Quinn’s consistency, too. His gaudy total is not the result of one great game, though he did torch the Ravens for a career-high 3½ sacks a week ago. Quinn has had at least a half-sack in all but two games. Last season, it was a surprise anytime he got one; now it’s perplexing when he gets shut out.

Quinn also leads the Bears with five quarterback hurries and three forced fumbles.

At 31, he looks like Gumby again as he circumvents offensive tackles, bending his torso almost horizontally as he churns his feet to reach the quarterback.

“The powers above blessed me with some uncanny abilities to [contort] my body the way it does,” said Quinn, a three-time South Carolina state-champion high school wrestler. “Some of it is just a little wrestling and repertoire in my system. Wrestling and pass rushing are kinda a little of the same thing to me. . . . I guess I’ve been training for it my whole life, in a sense.”

Everything has been better for Quinn this season, and that goes beyond football. Something was truly wrong with him in 2020 — more than injury trouble. Whatever it was, an emotional Quinn has kept it private. He dealt with it and got through it.

“Honestly, just mentally and spiritually happy,” he said. “I took a lot of time this offseason and . . . I talked to some good friends, some pastors and got myself mentally and spiritually right and brushed off the nonsense of last year, and I guess the weight I was holding is done and over with.

“I was in a rough place last year, and I think my performance showed that.”

Now he’s showing something different, and the outlook on his future with the Bears is dramatically brighter.

The conversation surrounding Quinn last season centered on how soon the Bears could escape his massive contract. He has been worth every cent this season and looks like he’ll still be a valuable asset for a while.