Linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis has experienced some emotional whiplash this season.
In Week 4, he and fellow linebacker Nick Kwiatkoski stepped in for Roquan Smith in a 16-6 victory over the Minnesota Vikings that may end up being the Bears' most impressive defensive performance this season. After the win, Pierre-Louis won the team's Sweep the Sheds award for his play on defense and special teams.
One week later in London, Pierre-Louis answered uncomfortable postgame questions after being penalized for running into Oakland Raiders punter A.J. Cole, setting the stage for the Raiders to extend what became the game-winning drive.
"I'm not going to lie," said Pierre-Louis, "in the right way, I think about it every day. I use it as motivation. It was just a tough scenario. The blessing about this league is short memories. You make plays, people will forget about that."
While Pierre-Louis and his coaches maintained that he was pushed into Cole and that the play was uncharacteristic of the veteran linebacker, Pierre-Louis used the disappointment in London as motivation to rise to the next challenge that confronted him. Even as a sixth-year pro, he acknowledged that he was still working on the balance between intensity and caution.
"I know what I'm capable of," said Pierre-Louis. "If I'm in the same situation--in that particular situation--I have to be smarter based on what's going on in the game, the time left, where we have the lead. Every time I get close--I've blocked a couple of punts in my career, so I'm not going to hold back on opportunities, but I am going to be situationally aware."
In the past few days, Pierre-Louis has seen his opportunities multiply exponentially.
When Smith went down last Thursday night with a torn pectoral muscle, Pierre-Louis stepped in. He recorded a season-high five tackles, including one for a loss, as the Bears defense held off a talented Cowboys offense, earning praise from coach Matt Nagy in his postgame press conference.
After Nagy announced Monday that Smith would be placed on injured reserve, ending his season, eyes turned again to Pierre-Louis. To Pierre-Louis, the chance to prove himself at the end of the season is a reward for the weeks of perseverance that led up to it.
"That's when you have to rely on why you're here," said Pierre-Louis, "why the coaching staff trusts you to be here. You know, everybody's here for a reason. No one's here just to take up a spot. You just have to keep reminding yourself of knowing your why, why you're doing this."
Pierre-Louis had other options when he decided to come to Chicago during last offseason but was won over by the reputation of the culture Nagy has built at Halas Hall. Pierre-Louis had his most productive season in 2017 in Kansas City, where Nagy was serving as the offensive coordinator.
At all points of this season, Pierre-Louis has emphasized his experience and professional approach. The Connecticut native was a fourth-round draft pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 2014 out of Boston College and has appeared in 68 games with four teams. However, if Pierre-Louis starts in Smith's place against Green Bay, it will be only his second start in his career.
"It's times like this when you lean on your brothers," said Pierre-Louis. "Ro's down right now, and he's going to need us for moral support. He's going to be there morally as well, helping us in the meetings. We've just got to pick up where he left off."