One of the NFL's best pass rushers displayed his rare athleticism and versatility in the second quarter of the Bears' Monday night loss to the Vikings.
On one of the rare occasions he dropped into coverage, perennial Pro Bowl outside linebacker Khalil Mack intercepted a Kirk Cousins pass after it was bobbled by receiver Adam Thielen and returned it 33 yards.
"Those are the things you do with Khalil that are changeups," said outside linebackers coach Ted Monachino. "You put him in coverage. Those are always good. The eight times a year that he's in coverage, you hope that frees somebody else up. Or you hope that it forces the quarterback to hold the ball just a tick longer, and the pressure gets home or he makes an errant throw."
The interception was Mack's first of the year, second in three seasons with the Bears and third of his NFL career.
"Any play that he makes, I'm thrilled for him," Monachino said. "This is an opportunity that he played perfectly. He ended up in exactly the right place with the right leverage. I think that surprised Adam Thielen. He bobbled it a little bit and Khalil was able to take it right off his chest and run with it."
Mack returned both of his previous two career interceptions for touchdowns—a 6-yarder when he was with the Raiders in 2016 against the Panthers and a 27-yarder in his Bears debut in the 2018 season opener in Green Bay.
On his 33-yard return Monday night, Mack raced past tackle Riley Reiff and shouldered Cousins to the ground while being angled out of bounds at the Vikings' 45.
"I know that as he came down the sideline, he didn't look unfamiliar running with the ball in his hand," Monachino said. "The finish on No. 8 was special. You love to see a guy be physical in everything that he does, and Khalil certainly was that when Kirk Cousins came over and tried to tackle him."
Mack leads the Bears with 6.5 sacks this year, increasing his total to 27.5 in 40 games with the team and 68.0 in seven NFL seasons. His 21.0 sacks in 2018-19 were the most by any player in his first two years with the Bears.
Mack has especially excelled under the lights. In 12 primetime games with the Bears, he has recorded 11.0 sacks, eight forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and two interceptions. The Bears' final night game of the season is scheduled for a week from Sunday against the Packers in Green Bay.
Since the Raiders selected Mack with the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft out of Buffalo, he and the Cardinals' Chandler Jones are the NFL's only two players to register at least 60 sacks and 20 forced fumbles.
Mack has been voted to five straight Pro Bowls, three with the Raiders and two with the Bears. He was acquired by the Bears Sept. 1, 2018 along with 2020 second- and seventh-round picks in exchange for 2019 first- and sixth-round choices and 2020 first- and third-round selections.