Tom Brady was 5-0 against the Chicago Bears in his career. Khalil Mack made it 5-1.
If it wasn’t his best game as a Bear, it was at least his most significant, as Mack willed the Bears to a 20-19 victory over the Buccaneers Thursday at Soldier Field.
“We smelled a little blood in the water,” Mack said.
Two sacks. Three hits on Brady. Two tackles for loss. One pass batted down. And it would have been three sacks if not for a very questionable roughing the passer call.
At one point, Mack literally sacked Brady and right tackle Tristan Wirfs, flipping the rookie over after he finished the quarterback because Wirfs was still hanging onto him. Asked after the game to explain it, Mack couldn’t:
“Nah. I can’t explain that man. It just happens.”
Well, it happens if you’re Khalil Mack. Add the play to his legendary Chicago collection – like the time he sacked Aaron Rodgers with his butt. Or the time he swatted 305-pound left tackle Riley Reiff away like a fly with his off arm.
But as good as Mack is, it’s been a while since Chicago has seen a performance like that from him – the type of game where he is undoubtedly the best player on the field – when he essentially wrecks the game for the opposing team.
“The guy played his tail off, man. That's what you get paid the big bucks for, to do things that he does,” Bears linebacker Roquan Smith said. “Extremely excited for the dude. Happy he's my teammate. Showing up and making big plays in big moments.”
As is typical for Mack, he was quick to give his teammates credit. The game came down to a 4th-and-6 stop with 38 seconds remaining and Mack pointed out that safety DeAndre Houston-Carson “ran the receiver’s route for him” to break up Brady’s pass. He also gave cornerback Kyle Fuller credit for his game-swinging hit on Buccaneers running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn that was originally ruled a penalty, but eventually ended up being a takeaway for the Bears after replay review. Four plays later, Nick Foles hit Jimmy Graham for a touchdown to give the Bears an unlikely 14-13 halftime lead after the Bucs had outplayed them for most of the first half.
“(Kyle) finally got a call that went his way,” Mack said. “He always plays hard. He had that same hit I feel like four weeks ago. It went the other way. Same play, man. This guy is an All-Pro player. You see the professionalism. It was an impactful play. Beautiful play. Beautiful football play.”
Beautiful would also be one way to describe the Bears’ constant pressure on Brady, who at 43 years old does not enjoy being hit. In total, the Bears racked up eight quarterback hits on the night, and after one sequence in the third quarter that included multiple hits and multiple penalties, Brady was caught on camera yelling at his offensive linemen as they came off the field. The game ended when Brady apparently forgot what down it was. After Houston-Carson broke up the 4th-and-6 pass, Brady was holding up four fingers like he thought there was another down. He's not in New England any more and the Bears rattled the GOAT into a rare senior moment.
“It clicked tonight like I knew it would,” Mack said. “It clicked at the right time ... going up against one of the best ever.”
While the offense still has some work to do to put up more points, the Bears’ pressure on Brady was a welcome sight. Coming into Thursday’s game, defensive tackle Akiem Hicks led the team in sacks with 3.5 and quarterback hits with nine. Mack was playing well on tape, but the sacks weren’t showing up on the stat sheet, as he only had 1.5 through four games. And as well as he had been playing, there wasn’t that signature game – like the one he delivered against the Bucs.
The last time Mack faced Brady was in 2018 when the Patriots won 38-31. The pass rusher was dealing with an ankle injury and clearly wasn’t 100 percent. The Bears struggled to move Brady off his spot and Mack ended up missing the next two games because of the injury.
This was a different version of Mack. It was the version Chicago saw most of 2018 when he was healthy -- the version they need to get back to the playoffs.
“It was great to see the success from the hard work that we've been putting in, but there's more hard work to be done,” Mack said. “There's no letup from this group. I'm going to do my best to make sure of that.”
The rest of the league is on notice.