Quiet Khalil Mack shows just how important he is to Bears' success

CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack is universally regarded as one of the NFL's top pass-rushers.

But on Sunday, Mack spent a good portion of Chicago’s 38-31 loss to the New England Patriots not attacking quarterback Tom Brady off the edge, but rather dropping back into pass coverage.

There are likely many reasons why the Bears used Mack that way; one explanation is probably that New England’s quick-hitting style of offense often neutralizes an opponent’s pass rush. Mack is also the kind of rare athlete capable of not only getting after the quarterback, but also guarding in open space.

However, Mack, who left the locker room without speaking to reporters on his way to treatment, is a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He didn’t win the award because of his pass-coverage skills. Mack’s injured right ankle is clearly an issue. As many expected, Mack tried to tough it out after a week of rest and abbreviated practice, but the results, or lack thereof, speak for themselves.

Mack had one tackle against the Patriots.

That’s it.

"I don’t know if the ankle affected him yet," Bears coach Matt Nagy said. "Again, in my role, I’m not as -- I don’t get to see the individual, how they feel and what they’re doing. I’ll be anxious to see really where he was at, how he looked, and then we’ve got to evaluate and listen to him, too."

As for Mack’s role in Week 7, Nagy said, "I’m not going to sit here and give anybody what our game plan was. You never know [if the plan going in called for the ends to drop back more into coverage].

"But I’m certainly not going to give anybody what we do."

The Bears have been a different defense since Mack hurt his ankle in a Week 6 loss in Miami. Chicago was credited with only one sack and three quarterback hurries as Brady completed 25 of 36 passes for 277 yards, three touchdowns and one interception (108.2 quarterback rating).

When healthy, Mack has been a dominant force for the Bears. He won NFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for September with five sacks, four forced fumbles, a pick-six and a fumble recovery.

Mack is worth every penny the Bears paid him -- a six-year extension that includes $90 million in guaranteed money.

But it’s fair to wonder when Mack’s ankle will be back to 100 percent, or if that’s even possible, since the Bears already had their bye week and their next long weekend isn’t until after their game at Detroit on Thanksgiving.

"No, we don’t feel the pressure [when the pass rush isn’t very effective]," Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller said. "I think we have the same pressure of being in position no matter what. So, no added pressure. We just have to be sharp on the back end. Today showed how important that is."

But Sunday’s defeat also illustrated Mack’s importance.

And it raised more questions about the health of his right ankle going forward.