Khalil Mack will play his second playoff game for the Bears Sunday.
Mack enters the Super Wild Card round in a different spot than he did two years ago. In 2018, Mack was the leader of the league's top defense, with the Bears boasting a 12-4 record. Last week, the Bears gave up 35 points to the Green Bay Packers and qualified only after the Los Angeles Rams defeated the Arizona Cardinals.
"It's a bittersweet type of thing," said Mack. "Obviously, our goal wasn't to go 8-8. Obviously, our goal wasn't to lose and do this, do that and rely on another team to get to where we want to be. But we are in a position to do some things now. They let us in. It's going to be fun. We have to make the most of this opportunity."
Mack sees the upcoming matchup against the New Orleans Saints as a chance to reset expectations in Chicago.
"You have the opportunity to redeem," said Mack. "So that's the only way I can look at it, you know what I'm saying? It's going to be a positive. And I can't wait, I can't wait."
The Saints' high-powered offense will provide Mack and his teammates with a test of the unit's resolve.
"Definitely looking forward to it," said Mack. "What greater challenge than the New Orleans Saints? It's going to be a fun one. But what comes with it is understanding that it's win or go home, and you're doing everything in your power for Sunday making sure this team stays in the playoff race."
The defense began the season as one of the league's top units. Mack helped stymie the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a Week 5 victory with two sacks of future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady.
However, the group hasn't looked the same since the Week 11 bye, allowing more than 30 points four times in the final six games.
"We understand what it is that we struggle with and haven't done so well," said Mack. "So understanding those different things, you have to learn from them and continue to help that and continue to let that help us get better."
As the first-ever No. 7 seed in the NFC, the Bears face plenty of doubts heading into Sunday. However, that skepticism plays into Mack's concept of himself.
"Me personally, I always feel like an underdog," said Mack. "It's just in me. A lot of these guys do as well, man. It's a lot of disrespect that we have been hearing. So you have to use all of that to your advantage."
Mack declined to say what he felt the root of the disrespect was, insisting that he was only interested in proving his doubters wrong.
"It's a lot of things that I can say to look back on those things," said Mack, "but it would be wrong of me to do because we have an opportunity right in front of us. [We are] blessed to be in a position we are in, just to make the most of that and use the different things we have learned to make us better."
Whatever the defense's failings were over the last several weeks of the regular season, Mack believes they can get fixed in time for the Bears to survive the first round.
"Over the course of a week," said Mack, "you'd be surprised what we can get done. There are a lot of professionals in this building, especially on the defensive side of the ball. We are looking forward to the challenge. This will be a good challenge for us."