With Khalil Mack causing chaos, everything has changed for the Bears
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Did the Vikings make a mistake by signing quarterback Kirk Cousins? That was the question on one of the national TV sports shows Monday morning.
It completely missed the point of the game from the night before, the one in which the Bears made Cousins look jittery, tentative and in the middle of a massive crisis of faith. Blaming Cousins for what Khalil Mack did to him Sunday night is like blaming a squirrel for what a Chevy Suburban did to it.
Mack’s excellence has been a bit of a sensitive subject for the rest of the Bears’ defense, but — and I can’t put this strongly enough — wow. A good attack becomes a ferocious, feral attack when the linebacker is healthy, as the poor Vikings found out.
The Bears’ 25-20 victory was another reminder to the NFL that, as long as their defense stays intact, they’ll be in almost every game, never mind the opponent. That is such a luxury. It means they can survive when Mitch Trubisky struggles, as the quarterback did against the Vikings.
Mostly, it means that, barring a freakish team meltdown or a rash of injuries, the 7-3 Bears are a playoff team. How serious a playoff team they’ll be remains to be seen, but isn’t it great to be thinking about it after four consecutive seasons of 10 or more losses?
A lot has been made of the Bears’ quick turnaround this week, with the schedule requiring them to go from a Sunday night game to an 11:30 a.m. start in Detroit on Thanksgiving. I don’t think that’s a negative. The froth on Mack’s lips from the Vikings game will still be relatively fresh.
He had a sack, a tackle for loss, two quarterback hurries, a pass breakup, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery against a team that played in the NFC Championship Game last season. That’s the numerical definition of chaos. So are the five tackles for loss that defensive tackle Akiem Hicks had.
If you get a chance, go back and look at the video of the fumble Mack caused and recovered in the first quarter. First, he knocked the ball loose from running back Dalvin Cook. Then, while on the ground and with two Vikings on top of him, he used his right hand to push the right foot of Vikings wide receiver Adam Thielen into the ball. That action knocked the ball over to Mack’s left hand, which he used to scoop up the pigskin.
You know, the way you always draw up a fumble recovery.
“[The ball] was still floating in front of my face and I had no arms, and I kind of had to back-crawl to it a little bit’’ is how he described it.
“He made a play,” Cook said. “That’s what he’s been doing since he got there. He made a play at the line of scrimmage. He just stuck his hand out there. It was a gift for him.”
On another play, a pass-rushing Mack used his left arm to shove aside Vikings left tackle Riley Reiff like a sheet on a clothesline. The video of it will be in Reiff’s permanent file forever. He weighs 313 pounds, Mack 247.
My goodness, what do we have here?
Several weeks ago, a few Bears defenders got a bit testy when reporters asked them about their impressive success without Mack, who had missed two games with an ankle injury. It was understandable, though a little silly. Of course, the defense had been good before Mack had arrived in a trade with the Raiders before the season. No one was arguing that. It’s just that with Mack, all boats are lifted. Surely, no one would argue with that, either.
He has changed everything.
“It happened so fast,’’ Mack said of the trade and his assimilation into the Bears’ defense. “I really didn’t understand what I was getting into until I actually got here. As time went on, I kind of figured out who I was playing with. It just clicked in my head and everybody else’s. It was meant to be.’’
Mack called Bears defensive coordinator Vic Fangio “an evil genius’’ — in a good way.
“He knows the game in and out, and he knows his players,’’ he said.
The Bears have a monster defense on their hands, led by a Monster Mack. The metamorphosis of this team from an easy win for opponents to a frightening prospect on anyone’s schedule has been stunning.
“It’s a real special thing to be a part of,’’ Mack said.
It’s even more fun to watch.