The Bears might have been wise to sit outside linebacker Khalil Mack once he hurt his right ankle last month against the Dolphins, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said Thursday. Still, Mack should be commended for trying to play, he said.
‘‘Some people would say we were wrong to play him after he got hurt early in Miami in that game and then wrong to play him the next game,’’ Fangio said. ‘‘But there’s another lens to look at that: A lot of people think players don’t play through injuries, and this guy is saying he can go. You don’t know him as great as you know some other guys, based on time. I prefer to look at it through the lens that, ‘This guy is trying to fight through and play, and he’s not letting an injury take him out.’
‘‘In hindsight, should we have taken him out earlier? Probably. But a guy says he can go, he can go, and we’ve got to see it.’’
Mack continued to play after hurting his ankle in the first half against the Dolphins. He started the next week against the Patriots, dropping into coverage more than at any point in his career. Fangio said at the time that the game plan to rush only three players at Tom Brady was unrelated to Mack’s injury. Mack then sat out Sunday against the Jets after coach Matt Nagy described his injury as an ‘‘hour-by-hour’’ development.
Trying to determine how much Mack could help the team while playing hurt was a challenge for the Bears’ staff, which had known him for only six weeks when he hurt his ankle. Mack never had missed an NFL game because of injury.
Fangio said he wasn’t directly involved in the discussion with Mack to sit him.
‘‘We’ve talked a bit, but not like it’s sitting down and I’ve got to psychoanalyze him or anything,’’ he said. ‘‘Just ask him how he’s feeling, how he’s doing. . . . I think he’s in a good spot.’’
Mack sat out practice again Thursday, marking the third consecutive week he has missed the first two days of the Bears’ practice week. He was limited the last two Fridays.
While they won’t say so publicly, the Bears figure to weigh his participation Sunday against the gauntlet of games for which they’ll need him healthy. After the game against the Bills, the Bears play three NFC North games in a row in the span of 12 days.
Fangio and Nagy were pleased with how the Bears played without Mack against the Jets.
‘‘When he’s available — whether it’s this week, next week or the following week, who knows? — that will help us because he’s a quality player, as we all know,’’ Fangio said. ‘‘But that should not affect the way we play as individuals otherwise.”
The Bears returned the core of a unit that finished ninth in scoring defense and 10th in yards per game allowed last season. They’re confident they can live up to that solid showing even with their best player temporarily sidelined.
‘‘What you have to be careful about is, when a player as good as Khalil joins you and makes you even better, when he’s out, how do you mentally handle that?’’ Nagy said. ‘‘Do you feel like: ‘OK, well, we really did a lot of great things those first four games. He’s out.’ Or do you say: ‘You know what? Who cares? Let’s go. Who cares? We’ve got to step up even more and perform at an even higher level.’
‘‘And I think our coaches have done a good job with this past week of explaining that to them that, ‘Hey, we’re a good defense, let’s play that way.’
‘‘It’s more mental, the mindset of it, than it is anything else.’’