GLENDALE, Ariz. — The Bears got massive contributions on defense from the guys you’d expect, like Khalil Mack (two sacks, one forced fumble), Akiem Hicks (one sack, one forced fumble) and Eddie Jackson (one interception). But the collective effort put forth by this defense was exceedingly apparent in the final two drives of Sunday’s 16-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Facing a third-and-two at their own 42-yard line just after the two-minute warning, rookie defensive lineman Bilal Nichols blew up a Chase Edmonds run for a loss of three. On the next play, Bryce Callahan — who’s had a fantastic start to 2018 — picked off Josh Rosen, making sure the Cardinals didn’t get into range for what could’ve been a game-winning field goal.
“It was a great call by coach Vic (Fangio),” Nichols said. “My teammates did a real good job of executing everything and then I kind of relied on my training and just read my keys and tried to make a play.
“… I knew it was third and one and I knew it probably was going to be a run play, so I just tried to be as disruptive as possible.”
The Cardinals got the ball back and got near midfield with five seconds left — in range, at least, for Rosen to fire a Hail Mary toward the end zone. But instead of dropping eight or nine into coverage, Fangio sent a blitz, and Sherrick McManis — the ace special teamer who also picked off his first pass in eight years on Sunday — hit home for a game-ending sack.
“I love it,” McManis said. “It was a great call. Coaches did an awesome job putting us in the right places and we did a good job of executing.”
The Bears' defense isn't having the success it is just because of Mack, or some of the top-end players on it. The across-the-board contributions it's getting from every corner of the depth chart is key in that dominance, too.
The Cardinals aren’t the first Phoenix-area sports team to feel like they don’t have much of a home field/court/rink advantage when a squad from Chicago comes to town, that’s for sure. But Bears fans travelled so well to Glendale on Sunday that the Cardinals almost had to do something that’s usually reserved for road games.
“It’s tough. There were a few times that we thought we were going to have to go silent cadence but if you’re not winning, the fans aren’t going to come out,” Cardinals offensive lineman Justin Pugh said. “If we go out and put a better product on the field, fans will come out and watch us and support us.”
No matter how expected it may be, it was still a striking sight to see Bears players — like Mack and Jackson — raise their arms in the air to encourage a crowd to make more noise at a road game.
Mack had an interesting description of his forced fumble, which came when Bradford tried to scramble into the Bears’ red zone early in the fourth quarter. It was a pivotal play in the game, and led to an offensive drive that ended with Cody Parkey’s game-winning field goal.
But in light of the NFL’s raging, self-inflicted controversy about its roughing the passer rule, how Mack explained making that play stands out.
“I knew he was going to have the ball in his right hand, got my head out of the way because that’s a big part of the rules nowadays, and tried to make a play,” Mack said. “It was what we worked on all week, punching the ball out. That’s what coaches were preaching all week.”
So on a Sunday on which Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews was again flagged for roughing the passer after landing on a quarterback, and in a climate where lowering the head constitutes a penalty, Mack pulled off a game-changing play without doing anything the NFL rulebook considers illegal. The Bears have not been flagged for roughing the passer this year, and instead have had multiple strip-sacks in each of their first three games.