A healthy Khalil Mack would make Patriots-Bears matchup so much more meaningful
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It feels like a month ago that I wrote that what the first-place Bears were doing had staying power, that they were for real. But it was only eight days ago. They were riding high, and the city was breathing the same air at altitude.
Then they lost to a Dolphins team starting its backup quarterback, and suddenly there was bitterness, betrayal, outrage, constipation and deathbed regrets. But enough about sports-talk-show hosts.
I also wrote: As long as (Khalil) Mack, an evildoer on defense, stays with the Bears and as long as he and the rest of the top players stay healthy, this thing is real.
The outside linebacker hurt his right ankle early in the game against the Dolphins and was a nonfactor the rest of the way. It meant that the Bears had virtually no pass rush and that Dolphins quarterback Brock Osweiler was able to sit in the pocket like a hunter in a deer blind. If Mack hadn’t been hurt, there’s a good chance the Bears’ defense would have gotten to Osweiler, the Dolphins wouldn’t have collected 541 yards of offense and receiver Albert Wilson wouldn’t have had 43- and 75-yard touchdown receptions in the fourth quarter. That’s the influence Mack can have on a game, the influence he had on the four games preceding the overtime loss to the Dolphins.
It remains to be seen how much he has recovered from his injury. He practiced for the first time Friday and is listed as questionable for the game Sunday against the Patriots. If he’s close to full health, the Bears have a shot against Tom Brady at Soldier Field. If he’s not, there’s a decent chance Brady will run them through a shredder. (None of this next-man-up nonsense. Unless the next man up wears a cape, he can’t come close to being Mack.)
But let’s proceed as though Mack will be healthy against the Patriots. What do the Bears have to do to have a chance?
Play better defense than they did last week is the wise-ass answer. Defend like they did in the first four games is the correct one.
It’s funny how malleable perspective is in this town. After the game against the Buccaneers, in which quarterback Mitch Trubisky threw for six touchdowns in a blowout victory, the general perspective was that he and the Bears were going places, never mind that the Bucs’ defense was pitiful.
After the game against the Dolphins, the general perspective was that, if you had to rank disasters, the overtime loss would finish behind Chernobyl but ahead of the Titanic.
The truth is somewhere between ‘‘Mitch reminds me so much of Elway’’ and ‘‘We’re all worthless and weak.’’
It’s why, purely from an observational standpoint, I hope Mack is close to 100 percent Sunday. It would be nice to get a better reading on where the Bears are, this time against one of the NFL’s elite teams and one of the greatest quarterbacks in league history.
Nothing against anyone the Bears have played to date, but the combination of Brady and coach Bill Belichick is a big jump in class. Something tells me trick plays aren’t going to beat the Patriots.
Every game is a learning experience for Trubisky, who’ll get locked in a library with Belichick for three hours. It’ll be interesting to see if he comes out with a smile on his face or with a haunted look.
That brings us back to Mack. When he’s healthy, he takes away much of the burden on Trubisky. When he’s taking on two defenders, freeing up another pass rusher, or when he’s running around the opponent’s backfield, the Bears don’t need a Hall of Fame performance from their second-year quarterback. It’s not all on the kid.
Trubisky has put together two good games. He bounced back from a bland performance in the first half against the Dolphins with a big second half. That might have been more impressive than the silly numbers he put up against the Bucs. That was progress after a start that seemed to hint at regression.
More progress from Trubisky against Belichick and the Patriots’ defense would be an excellent sign for the Bears and their future. If he plays poorly, they only can hope Mack’s ankle isn’t an issue.
If Trubisky plays poorly and Mack’s ankle is an issue, you’ll want to move immediately to higher ground. There will be a flood of tears. But enough about talk-show callers.