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Welcome back, Mack: Bears OLB Khalil Mack stars in return with two sacks

Outside linebacker Khalil Mack had no idea what was going on when his teammates started  dancing in the Bears’ end zone after cornerback Prince Amukamara intercepted Matthew Stafford’s deep pass at the 3-yard line.

“If it was planned, I didn’t know anything about it,” Mack said. “I was down the field, turned, looked up and saw they started doing the jumping-rope dance. So it was cool.”

That’s what happens when you miss two consecutive games because of a sprained right ankle. The defense not only planned its celebrations for big plays without Mack, but also broke them out in victories against the Jets and Bills.

“It was tough for me [sitting out], but it was cool coming back and getting another win,” Mack said
after the Bears’ 34-22 victory against the Lions on Sunday at Soldier Field. “That’s what it’s all about.”

Bears OLB Khalil Mack celebrates a sack against the Lions. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Bears OLB Khalil Mack celebrates a sack against the Lions. | Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In the long run, Mack’s two-week absence might prove to have been beneficial. The defense — one that ranked 10th overall last season — found its groove without him.

It didn’t need Mack to fluster Jets rookie quarterback Sam Darnold at Soldier Field or dominate the Bills on the road.

Amukamara said after the rout of the Bills that the running joke among defensive players was that they were running out of ways to celebrate their takeaways and touchdowns.

For Mack, the defense’s success made sitting tolerable, but it still felt unbearable.

“I don’t like to sit and watch,” Mack said. “I like to be out there with my guys. . . . Like I was telling [outside linebackers coach Brandon Staley], I’ve got to play catch-up. I got to get to the quarterback as many times as I can.”

Mack did that twice against the Lions. On his second sack, Mack avoided a chip block by tight end Levine Toilolo and flattened left tackle Taylor Decker before taking down Stafford.

“It could have been three, four [sacks],” Mack said. “You know what I’m saying?”

It felt like that type of day. The Bears’ defense played well enough to handle Stafford (25-for-42, 274 yards, two interceptions, 74.9 passer rating), but it still could have been better. The Lions scored twice in the fourth quarter when Stafford threw touchdown passes to Kenny Golladay and Kerryon Johnson.

Still, it was a day full of big plays on defense.

Amukamara had his interception and forced a fumble that was recovered by safety Adrian Amos in the third quarter. Outside linebacker Leonard Floyd had his first sack of the season, and rookie defensive tackle Bilal Nichols had one of his own. Nickel back Bryce Callahan had an interception and a sack. And linebacker Roquan Smith led the Bears in tackles for the second game in a row with 10, which included a sack on a blitz.

“Our defense becomes better when [Mack’s] in there, but our defense is pretty good when he’s not in there,” coach Matt Nagy said. “The biggest question coming into this game was how was he going to hold up health-wise, and it seemed like he did pretty well.”

Mack celebrated his first sack against the Lions, which came against right tackle Rick Wagner, by playing the air guitar.

“I felt like I was listening to some Guns N’ Roses,” said Mack, who also tackled Johnson and Nick Bellore for no gains on running plays. “I was pumping it up a little bit.”

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After his second sack — a devastating display of athleticism and power against Decker — Mack appeared to do a cartwheel.

“That was a little bit of momentum, not knowing what to do,” Mack said.

The next time he should ask Amukamara or another defensive teammate what to do. They’ve been planning celebrations for weeks.