Before Sunday, the last time Bears fans saw Akiem Hicks, he was suffering an injury so brutal it required a content advisory warning.
That gruesome elbow injury suffered in London against the Oakland Raiders in Week 5, kept the Pro Bowl defensive tackle out for eight weeks. His return to action in Green Bay Sunday may not have resulted in the Bears victory for which he'd hoped, but Hicks took solace in the effort his team showed.
"It's always disappointing to not meet your expectations," said Hicks, "so I think for us as a group, we have to say we finished playing the rest of the season: the way that we played that streak where we won three games in a row. Just keep fighting."
As expected, Hicks' return provided a spark for a defense depleted by injuries. Hicks tallied four tackles and two hits on quarterback Aaron Rodgers. His success on the field contrasted with close-ups on the broadcast, attempting to show every time the veteran grimaced in pain.
"It just speaks to who he is, his toughness," said coach Matt Nagy. "He aggravated it a few times in the middle of the game. You're never sure, really, what happens, but for him to fight back like that and be back out there as a warrior with his team, we appreciate that."
Hicks' endurance went beyond a twinge of pain from the old injury. Twice during the game, he found himself in the injury tent moments after lifting himself gingerly off the turf.
"There's a lot of doubt in that moment," said Hicks. "When you go to the medical tent, you just try to figure out what's going on. They did their best to make sure I was able to play, and I was able to go back out and finish the game, so kudos to our team."
Despite those visits to the injury tent, when it seemed all but certain he'd be sent to the locker room to eventually return to the sideline in a hoodie with his arm in a sling, Hicks forced himself onto the field until the bitter end.
"I'm going to go through some of those things throughout the course of a game," said Hicks. "Hopefully, it can be a lot less than today. You know, it was really my first chance to get back out there and test it out, so I was happy that it stood up to the test."
When asked about his pain level during the game, Hicks laughed.
"I would hate to describe it," said Hicks. "I guess, imagine just like bone doing like that, just moving a little bit when you don't want it to."
Hicks then shrugged it off, calling it "a part of the game."
Had a few things gone differently, Hicks might have been discussing the Bears' postseason plans or an oncoming late-season run. Given the outcome of the game, Hicks admitted his disappointment.
"Unfortunately, it's not a really good feeling right now because we didn't get the victory that we expected," said Hicks. "We just had to move forward from there."
While the 21-13 loss wasn't the ideal outcome for Hicks, he did take some solace in the way the team fought back from adversity. The Bears took what seemed destined to be a blowout and turned it into a nail-biter, thanks to four consecutive defensive stops in the fourth quarter.
"I think that's the character of this team, anyway, is to never lay down," said Hicks. "You saw it out there today when we were down 21-3. Guys rallied and had opportunities to finish this game. I think we have good character guys. I know you guys have heard that a million times. I know that doesn't make it any easier, but we're going to keep playing."
For Hicks, kept on the sideline for the majority of the year, the feeling of suiting up and taking the field was powerful by itself.
"Oh, man, it was everything," said Hicks. "My d-linemates--Nick Williams, Eddie Goldman, Bilal Nichols, those guys--they saw the energy, and they were excited for me to be able to go back out there because they know how much I miss it."
With the Minnesota Vikings' win against the Chargers, the Bears have been eliminated from playoff contention. Still, Hicks would not say if he'd be active for the last two games of the season.
"I love football," said Hicks.
After his performance on Sunday, no one could challenge him on that.