Khalil Mack knows what the Bears stand to gain on Thursday night against the Dallas Cowboys.
The Bears have a chance to hold a winning record for the first time in nearly two months. With arguably the most challenging four-game stretch of the season in front of him, the All-Pro linebacker knows that starting the month out strong is a necessity.
"It's just understanding that this week is a big week," said Mack. "Every game from here on out is going to be a big game. We're just looking forward to the challenge."
While the Bears have experienced more attrition to injuries this season than last, Mack has held up well through 13 weeks. Mack believes that this point in the season calls for physical and mental toughness.
"You ain't got no choice right now but to be 100 percent," said Mack. "Mentally that's going to be huge for everybody at this point. Just looking forward to the challenge. It's not really making no excuses about this and that. Just going out and looking to get a win."
The defense could get a boost next week when defensive tackle Akiem Hicks is expected to return frominjured reserve. Mack said that the team got a boost this week when Hicks, dubbed "Mufasa" by Mack, returned to practice.
"It's always fun when you've got the Mufasa out there," said Mack. "That's my guy, man. Real special player. Not only that, he's a real special person. Just having him around, like I was probably talking about the other day, was huge, but having him on the field was even more huge."
In the absence of Hicks and linebacker Danny Trevathan, second-year linebacker Roquan Smith has been required to take on an increased load, earning high marks from Mack.
"He plays with a chip on his shoulder," said Mack. "It's a beautiful thing. I heard him talking a little bit last game, and I never heard him talk like that before, so he needs to keep doing it."
With the Vikings' loss to the Seahawks Monday night, the Bears are two games back from the wild card with a Week 17 matchup in Minnesota looming. However, Mack isn't one to think too far into the future.
"It's up to us," said Mack. "We can only focus on what we can control, and that's try to get another victory on Thursday."
Mack has a healthy respect for the Cowboys offense, especially wide receiver Amari Cooper, his teammate for three seasons with the Oakland Raiders.
"He's one of the most special receivers in the league," said Mack. "I remember seeing him his rookie year, doing some stuff that I've never seen before, as far as his footwork, he was one of the most impressive guys I've ever seen in my life."
Even with little margin for error Thursday night, Mack says that he doesn't mind the pressure.
"We love this," said Mack. "If you play this game and you love this game, you can't wait to do the impossible in the sense. You can't wait to go out and prove yourself. So that's really what it is."