Bears' Mack tries, fails to avoid smack before facing former Raiders team Sunday
by Frank Cooney
As Chicago Bears defensive monster Khalil Mack prepares to face his former Oakland Raiders teammates on Sunday in London, everybody is trying to say to so-called right things.
But as the game nears, well, these guys just can't help themselves.
Mack was really trying to avoid hype, even saying, “it’s just another game.” But on Wednesday the word “vindictiveness” did slip out.
Oakland coach Jon Gruden, in a teleconference from London on Wednesday, again claimed he didn’t want to trade Mack last year and, in an understatement, admitted he expects a challenge this Sunday.
Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, who will be the actual target of the issue in Sunday’s game, had precautionary X-rays on his left leg and seems to be avoiding discussion on Mack, just as he will try to avoid the pass rusher himself on Sunday.
Mack: “I mean, you could talk all day, man, but I ain’t a talker. I just want to go out and show it. And I’m going to let that be that.”
Mack said Carr spearheaded an effort to prevent the trade last year and the quarterback expressed disappointment when the team pulled the trigger. Mack still considers Carr “a brother” and this week said “I love him, but it’s going to be fun to compete against him this week.”
And that probably won’t look like brotherly love.
Pressed on Wednesday, Mack did respond when somebody asked about being vindictive.
“Vindictiveness? I like that word,” Mack said, smiling. “You can’t play this game with too much emotion. Ultimately, I try to stay focused on the task at hand, understanding the situation.
“Absolutely there’s feelings that you suppress, but it’s also no big deal to me. I’m here. I love the Bears. We’re gonna go out and try to get this win.”
Mack said previously that the trade didn’t sit well with him and he originally dreamed of spending his entire career with the Raiders after they drafted him fifth overall in 2014 and he made All-Pro twice and was Defensive Player of the Year.
“That’s the expectation, man,” he said of staying with the Raiders. “When you get drafted to a team, you want to be there for the long haul and bring championships and all those good things.”
But the Raiders decided he wasn’t worth his market value and dealt him just before the start of last season. After the trade, he signed a six-year, $141 million extension with the Bears that included $90 million guaranteed.
The Raiders saved all that money but acquired the Bears’ 2019 and 2020 first-round picks, a 2020 third-rounder and a 2019 sixth-rounder as well as a second-rounder and fifth-rounder in the 2020 draft.
Since acquiring Mack, the Bears are 15-5; allowed the fewest points and second-fewest yards in the NFL and lead the league with 44 takeaways and 67 sacks.
Mack leads the NFL with 10 forced fumbles and is fifth with 17 sacks in that span.
The Raiders are struggling, especially in putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Their five total sacks rank as second fewest in the NFL after they had the fewest last season with 13.
On Wednesday, Gruden obviously didn’t want to revisit the Mack issue even if he can’t avoid it Sunday.
“I’m not going to get into all the drama,” Gruden said following his team’s London practice. “We wanted to sign Mack, OK? We didn’t want to trade him. I wish him the best. I’m not re-hashing all the drama. We wanted to have him. We couldn’t make it happen.”
The Raiders used the first of the two first-round selections on Alabama running back Josh Jacobs, whose 307 rushing yards are a franchise record through the first four games of a player’s career.
“We were able to get a couple draft picks,” Gruden said. “Josh Jacobs is playing well for us and we were able to sign some players in free agency, and we’re going to continue to build our team. Certainly wish Mack the best.”
Well, probably not on Sunday. Gruden described recent game film on Mack as somewhat of a horror show.
“Not a lot has changed when I watch Khalil play,” Gruden said. ‘He’s a great player. They move him around, so he’s hard to find at times. They have a lot of other players on defense that are concerning to us also. So he’s a great player, a great effort player certainly, and he’s surrounded on all three levels by talent. And they also have depth. We’re going to have our hands full, that’s for sure.”
The Raiders will try to be creative to counter Mack.
“Hopefully [tackles] Trent Brown and Kolton Miller are up to a great challenge,” Gruden said. “We’re not going to underestimate [outside linebacker Leonard] Floyd, either, that’s for sure. We’re not going to underestimate any of these guys.
"I think [Aaron] Lynch comes in and gives them a rest. They have four good rushers and allow him to be at his best when he’s on the grass. It will be a challenge.”
In fact, Lynch has his own ideas on how this “challenge” will turn out Sunday.
“I’m pretty sure he’s probably salivating to go after the Oakland Raiders,” Lynch said. “But I think he salivates, like all of us, to go after everybody else as well. I’m just expecting a couple forced fumbles this game.”