On a key third-down play in a Nov. 16, 2014 game against the Chargers, Khalil Mack fired out of his three-point stance. The star pass rusher, who was then in his rookie season with the Raiders, first raced past quarterback Philip Rivers before doubling back and tackling him from behind.
Nearly five years later, in Week 2 of this season in Denver, Bears defensive tackle Nick Williams fought off a block and dragged down Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco for a one-yard loss.
Mack and Williams both recall their respective plays as if they happened yesterday—because regardless of whether you're a perennial Pro Bowler or a role player who spent the 2017 season out of football, pass rushers alwaysremember their first NFL sack.
Selected by the Raiders with the fifth pick in the first round of the draft, Mack didn't record his first sack until the 10th game of his rookie season.
"It was a huge deal for me," Mack said. "I was 10 games in without a sack. It was a big weight lifted off me. I was getting there, but I never got there, know what I mean? That first one was like, 'Why did it take so long?' After the first one, the rest of them come in bunches."
Williams had to wait even longer, generating his first NFL sack in his 30th game. Prior to joining the Bears last year, he had played for the Chiefs (2014-16) and Dolphins (2016) before spending the 2017 season out of football. It was a monumental achievement he didn't initially realize he had accomplished.
"Flacco stepped up and I wrapped him up," Williams said. "I didn't even know it was a sack. I didn't even get up and celebrate. I thought he had gained like one yard until I heard [over the public address system], 'Flacco, with a loss of one on the play.' I was like, 'OK!' Akiem [Hicks] came over and head-butted me and we went on to the next play.
"It's a moment just like any other moment when you make a big play; all the hard work you do in the offseason, you try to come in here and put your best football on the field and it kind of comes to fruition when you get a sack. It was a pretty good feeling."
Nose tackle Eddie Goldman's first sack came on Oct. 4, 2015 in the fourth game of his rookie season when he tackled Raiders quarterback Derek Carr.
"It felt good," Goldman said. "That's the best stat a d-lineman can have is sacks. That's what you play for. There are a lot of components to the game, but for a d-lineman or outside linebacker, a sack is like a pick to a DB."
Like Mack, defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris's first sack came in the 10th game of his first season—on Dec. 10, 2017 in Cincinnati when he dropped Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton.
"It should have been a safety, but I got held," Robertson-Harris said. "I was getting pulled back. It wasn't my favorite one, but it was cool for a first one. I knew eventually it would come. It took forever and a day. From there I just wanted more and more. Once you get one, you want more and more."
Unlike a couple of his teammates, outside linebacker Leonard Floyd didn't have to wait long to get to the quarterback. In his very first NFL game, the 2016 first-round pick shared a sack of the Texans' Brock Osweiler with Goldman.
"It was like a dream coming into the league and getting a sack in my first game," Floyd said. "It was this feeling of accomplishment."
Defensive end Bilal Nichols can relate. Selected by the Bears in the fifth round of last year's draft, his first sack came in the third game of his rookie season when he teamed up with Robertson-Harris to bring down the Buccaneers' Jameis Winston.
"I bull-rushed the guard, got back there and just jumped on Jameis," Nichols said. "I jumped on top of him and Roy took him out from under.
"It's funny because I didn't have a celebration [prepared] or anything. I literally just screamed. I was so excited. It was a special moment because getting your first sack in the NFL is a huge accomplishment. It's always about sacks, who can get to the quarterback in this league."
Outside linebacker Aaron Lynch's first NFL sack came in Denver on Oct. 19, 2014 when he played for the 49ers. His victim was none other than future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, who coincidentally set the NFL career record for touchdown passes in the game.
"I beat the tackle clean and [Manning] just let me tackle him," Lynch said. "He just fell straight down and he just let me touch him. It was cool. I'll never forget that.
"That's what we get paid to do. That's what everybody looks to do. When you get to do something that is such a big milestone, it means a lot. I'll remember that sack because it was my first one. It was my first real big play in the NFL, the one that actually matters as a pass rusher."
Bears first-year defensive end Abdullah Anderson generated his first NFL sack a couple weeks ago against the Saints.
"I remember Khalil Mack coming in like a bat out of hell and I was basically closing the pocket," Anderson said. "I saw him make an inside move, and it took the offensive lineman's hands off me. I looped around him and Teddy Bridgewater fell in my lap. That's why as soon as I came off [the field] I went up to Mack and I was like, 'thanks for the sack,' because he basically caused the disruption. But it was cool. It was a cool experience.
"It's a very big deal, especially me being the young guy. It's kind of like quick excitement because all of a sudden you've got to line up for the next play. But everybody's congratulating you. I know big Nick [Williams] was all up on me saying, 'You got your first sack, you've got to live in the moment because some people don't get that for a whole six years in the league.'"
While some pass rushers have to wait longer than others for their first sack, it's clearly a milestone none of them will ever forget.
"The top players in this league are known for getting sacks, so whenever you can get to the quarterback, you're showing how talented of a player you are," Nichols said. "And I feel like once you get your first one, it's just such a confidence boost and it just lets you know you belong."