Bears Defense Proves A Point Without Khalil Mack

October 28, 2018 - 6:34 pm

CHICAGO (670 The Score) -- Since the superstar arrival of Khalil Mack to this city, with the record contract he signed and renewed hope for the Bears, he has been at the center of attention.

Mack was greeted by billboards posted by the team around local highways and his No. 52 jerseys were sold to be worn all around Soldier Field. The Bears certainly realize the importance of Mack to their success and understand what his persona means to their city and season. Mack's mere presence changed the context surrounding the Bears.

"$140 million," teammate Aaron Lynch said, referring to Mack's historic deal. "He's going to get talked about every minute of the day."

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But the Bears understood there could come a time without Mack lining up on the edge of their defensive front, staring daggers toward an opposing quarterback. That day came at Soldier Field on Sunday after the Bears ruled out Mack with the hopes that his right ankle injury that's been hampering him could heal with rest.

The Bears would never downplay Mack's impact, but they also were sick of talking his ailment. On Sunday, this defense proved a point without Mack -- it's more than one superstar player. The Bears held the Jets to just 207 yards and led the way to a 24-10 victory.

"You always want to ride for your guys, especially when they're down," defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. "You just do your best to play to the best of your capability. Don't forget, we were a top-10 defense before (Mack's arrival).

"I don't want to go back and forth on what any particular guy does on this defense. I want to talk about our entire defense as a whole and how dominant we have been and dominant we will continue to be for the rest of the year."

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The Bears (4-3) knew their task clearly entering Sunday, facing rookie quarterback Sam Darnold and a Jets offense in trouble. Top receivers Quincy Enunwa and Robby Anderson were both inactive. Running back Bilal Powell was recently placed on injured reserve. The game plan was simple for the Bears defense: be efficient on first and second downs and in position to win third downs.

More specifically, the Bears dared Darnold to beat them while taking away the Jets' rushing attack. Chicago held New York to just 57 yards on 24 carries (2.4 yards per rush), while Darnold finished 14-of-29 for 153 yards and a touchdown.  

The Bears had only one sack and didn't force a turnover, but they forced six three-and-outs and held the Jets to 3-of-14 on third downs and one play of more than 20 yards (a 29-yard strike from Darnold to receiver Deontay Burnett in the fourth quarter). 

What the Bears really did was control the game.

"Obviously, Khalil Mack is a great addition when he is on the field," Lynch said. "But we showed today that we don't necessarily need him to win a game."

Added linebacker Danny Trevathan: "When we play like this, man, it's just a lot of fun."

Coming off consecutive tough losses, the Bears were out for a victory and reinspired hope. They had allowed 31 points to the Dolphins in a crushing overtime loss on Oct. 14 and 38 to Tom Brady and the Patriots a week prior. Facing Darnold and the beat-up Jets was different. Not only was a bounce-back predictable, but the Bears expected it. 

Chicago hopes to have Mack back at Buffalo next Sunday, coach Matt Nagy said. But that remains to be seen as the team manages his ankle injury with great caution. The Bears could be left to hold Mack out of practice for much of this week and have him test out the ankle in Buffalo pregame before making that final determination.

On this Sunday, the Bears knew an hour-and-a-half before kickoff that Mack would be inactive and they would play without him. Mack was present on the sidelines and cheering his teammates on, but that's all he could add for them.

The Bears embraced the chance to prove themselves without Mack and came away with a win. 

"We played together," Lynch said. "We played as one, we played aggressive and we had fun doing it."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.​