Back before the season started and Khalil Mack was on the trading block from Oakland, the Chicago Bears and San Francisco 49ers were two of the teams in hottest pursuit of the star pass rusher.
The Bears won that competition and are headed to the playoffs for the first time in eight years, while the 49ers are headed to another disappointing finish thanks in part to a lack of defensive playmakers.
“You never know 100 percent when you’re right in the middle of it, because there’s so many different rumors that fly around,” Bears coach Matt Nagy said about the competition for Mack. “We were just concerned with what we could control, and making sure we did everything we possibly could to get him, and that’s what we did.”
The 49ers (4-10) will get to see what they missed out on in person in their home finale on Sunday against Mack and the NFC North champion Bears (10-4).
The Niners believed they offered a more lucrative package for Mack than the deal the Bears made for a package that featured two first-round picks. But the Raiders ultimately decided to send Mack halfway across the country instead of down the street.
“I think you’d have to ask the Raiders,” coach Kyle Shanahan said when asked why the deal didn’t get done. “But, it takes two teams to get it done and we went as hard as we could on it.”
Mack would have provided a big boost in San Francisco, where the Niners have generated an NFL-low five takeaways and are on pace for the fewest ever in a season.
With Mack forcing a league-high six fumbles and providing pressure that has led to some of Chicago’s league-best 26 interceptions, the Bears lead the NFL with 35 takeaways and 107 points off turnovers.
“I thought they were very good last year,” Shanahan said. “They’ve always had a good scheme, and then they added an elite player. Their whole defense has played in this scheme another year. They’ve stayed healthy, which makes everyone get better, which I thought they were close to one of the better ones last year. Then, you add in a guy like Khalil and the results are pretty predictable.”
Here are some other things to watch:
Bears general manager Ryan Pace made a bold move when he traded up a spot with San Francisco to draft quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the No. 2 overall pick in 2017. It’s no surprise that deal came up this week, though he played against the 49ers as a rookie.
“It was a crazy night for sure,” said coach Matt Nagy, an assistant on Andy Reid’s staff in Kansas City at the time. “I don’t think many people saw that coming, but what a great move by Ryan to do that. That’s what’s so neat about that draft. I always love listening to all the pundits talking about 10 minutes after the draft ends, ‘it was a great draft or it was a poor draft.’ I’ve always been amazed by that.”
Trubisky has tied a franchise single-season record with four 300-yard passing games and was selected as a Pro Bowl alternate. He bounced back last week from one of his worst games as a pro, completing 20 of 28 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns. He threw no interceptions after matching a career high with three the previous week against the Rams, and he went from posting a personal-low 33.3 rating to a 120.4.
The Niners do have one impact pass rusher with DeForest Buckner recording 11 sacks to join Aldon Smith as the only San Francisco players to reach double figures in the past 16 seasons. Buckner generated plenty of pass pressure his first two seasons, but finished with just nine sacks as he was unable to finish plays off. That’s changed this season, especially the past few weeks when he has 6½ sacks the past six games.
“It’s really just taking advantage of the one-on-ones I get and also finding a way through double teams,” he said. “There were a couple of times this year I got a sack through double teams. It’s just finding that extra step and finishing.”
PASSING “PAPA BEAR”
Nagy has a chance to pass “Papa Bear.” After joining founder George Halas as the only rookie coaches in franchise history with 10 wins, he has a chance to set the record this week. Halas went 10-1-2 in 1920, the first year for a franchise then known as the Decatur Staleys.
STILL A FAN
Niners kicker Robbie Gould still has ties to the Bears, after spending his first 11 years in Chicago. Gould was cut in 2016, but still roots for his old team. Gould’s family still lives in Chicago and Gould decided to buy playoff tickets to take his two sons to the Bears first playoff game in eight years.
“I’ve never been able to take them to an NFL game,” he said. “They’ve always come to watch dad play. It will be my turn to hang out.”
Gould has made 80 of 83 field goals since being cut by the Bears, including all five in a win at Chicago last year.
Source: The Associated Press