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Inside Slant

Inside Slant: Mack shines in Bears debut

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It took newly acquired Bears linebacker Khalil Mack just 83 seconds to introduce himself to Bears faithful on Sunday night — and then he reintroduced himself again and again. When the Bears went to the locker room at halftime, the Mack Show was already in full production, featuring a first-half Mack strip-sack and a pick-six touchdown.

With 13:37 in the first quarter, Mack entered the game and quickly made his presence felt. In his first play in a Bears uniform, Mack muscled Packers right tackle Bryan Bulaga back, forcing quarterback Aaron Rodgers to hurry and throw an incomplete pass.

On the next play it was déjà vu. Mack overpowered Bulaga again, drawing a holding penalty.

Mack was all over the field in the first half as the Bears took a commanding 17-0 lead at halftime before Green Bay ultimately rallied for a 24-23 win.

The Bears acquired Mack on Sept. 1 in a huge trade with the Oakland Raiders. The Bears received Mack plus a 2020 second-round pick and a conditional 2020 fifth-round pick in exchange for four future draft picks.

Bears general manager Ryan Pace felt the deal gave the Bears a known commodity in Mack — the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year and a three-time Pro Bowler — and was willing to give up future unknowns in the form of draft picks.

After pulling off the trade, Pace touted Mack’s track record.

“Elite defensive players in their prime are rare,” Pace said. “So when we knew we had a legit shot to acquire him, we did everything we thought necessary to get him.”

Mack sat out all of training camp while with the Raiders due to a contract dispute, so he didn’t get his first taste of game action this year until Sunday night. In the first half against the Packers, Mack did everything he could to make Pace look brilliant for executing the trade.

In the second quarter, Mack brought more heat. On a first-and-10 play, the fifth overall pick in the 2014 NFL Draft rushed toward Rodgers, forcing the quarterback to overthrow intended receiver Davante Adams. Two plays later Mack got a hand on Rodgers before defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris took him down for a sack.

“In the first half [Mack] was pretty much what we thought,” said coach Matt Nagy. “We didn’t know how many reps he’d get. We wanted to see where he’s at conditioning wise. He’s doing well. He’s feeling good, making plays and making big-time plays.”

Toward the end of the first half, with the Packers in position threatening to score, Mack took over again.

On second-and-goal, Mack jammed Adams at the line, slipped by Bulaga, strip-sacked Packers backup quarterback DeShone Kizer and recovered the fumble. 

Mack wasn’t through introducing himself to the Bears-Packers rivalry yet, though. On the Packers' next offensive series, Mack brought pressure on the left side and got his hands around Kizer’s feet. The quarterback stepped up to avoid Mack’s contact, and rookie linebacker Roquan Smith — who had entered on the play in his NFL debut — wrapped up Kizer for a sack on his very first play.

Two plays later, Robertson-Harris broke through the line and lunged toward Kizer. Kizer tried to get rid of the ball, but lobbed a pass into the waiting hands of Mack. The newest Bear took it the other way, breaking through four tackles for a 27-yard pick-sox score to put the Bears up 17-0 heading into the locker room.

Mack’s first-half play was a bright spot in a game that turned into a tough loss, and it gave Bears fans an introduction into what they may see the rest of the season from one of the defense’s newest members.

Despite his individual prowess in the game though, Mack said he ultimately only wanted the win.

“You prepare all offseason for the first game of the season, so I wanted to come back and make an impact,” Mack said. “But you want to win these games. That is the only thing on my mind. I hate losing.”

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