‘This is what you live for’: Bears’ D knows playoff dominance can cement legacy
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Bears right guard Kyle Long isn’t easily impressed. The son of a Pro Football Hall of Famer, he can name only a few players he has gotten up from the bench to watch: Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, former Lions receiver Calvin Johnson and, when they had a joint practice session together, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
This season, though, Long has stood up often.
“I love watching our defense,” he said.
The Bears’ defense has been must-see viewing this season. But it won’t be truly memorable unless the Bears dominate in the postseason.
“It would do everything to cement this defense,” defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “The regular season is fine and dandy, and taking care of business and being 12-4 is a phenomenal thing and a phenomenal turnaround for this team. But it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t play well in the playoffs. Everyone will forget on how good we were throughout the season. So you’ve got to capitalize on this moment.”
That starts with the wild-card game Sunday at Soldier Field against the Eagles, the defending Super Bowl champions.
“That’s what you live for,” outside linebacker Khalil Mack said. “You live for these types of moments. You live for these types of games.”
Mack wears No. 52 in honor of Ray Lewis, his favorite player. The former Ravens linebacker won two Super Bowls, including one in his final game. Five years later, he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
“It’s all a part of your legacy,” said Mack, who lost his lone playoff game with the Raiders. “That’s exactly what you want to be remembered for, being a champion.”
Since general manager Ryan Pace traded for Mack the week before the season began — and made him the highest-paid defender in history with a six-year deal worth $141 million — the unit has lived up to its considerable hype.
“This defense that we’re all a part of right now is one that I haven’t been a part of before,” coach Matt Nagy said.
Football Outsiders ranks the Bears’ defense No. 1 in DVOA, which measures efficiency against the league average, and No. 1 in weighted defense, which gives more credence to recent performances. The Bears are ranked first in pass defense and second against the run.
They’ve allowed the fewest yards and time of possession per offensive drive and have forced more turnovers and interceptions per drive than any team.
They just set the franchise record by allowing only 1,280 regular-season rushing yards. In their last 34 regular-season games, they’ve allowed one 100-yard rusher in regulation.
And in their last four games, they have allowed a total of two touchdowns. One, against the Packers, came after the Bears gave them the ball at midfield on a failed fake punt.
Not that it matters Sunday.
“All those stats are thrown out the window,” cornerback Prince Amukamara said.
Among the Bears’ challenges: Nick Foles, the 2018 Super Bowl MVP, who came off the bench to quarterback the Eagles to three straight wins and a playoff berth; receiver Alshon Jeffery, the former Bears star who has caught 16 of 18 passes for 301 yards during that same span; and first-team All-Pro center Jason Kelce.
And, of course, nerves. The Eagles boast considerable playoff experience. The Bears do not, but they claim the victory last week against the Vikings, who were fighting for their playoff lives, was good practice.
They say they’re ready for their moment.
“You’ll see on Sunday,” Mack said. “I’m not a guy who does a lot of talking. I let my play talk. So that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”
Do it well, and Mack won’t have to talk. The playoffs are where legacies are made.
“That’s what it comes down to,” Nagy said. “ ‘Oh, yeah, I remember that great season, I remember all those great plays and great games.’ So we want to be able to do whatever we can to win these games. That’s ultimately what everybody’s been judged on.”