Cardinals quarterback Sam Bradford should have known better. His offensive coordinator, Mike McCoy, probably should have too.
The Cardinals held a 14-13 lead early in the fourth quarter Sunday and had moved into field-goal range. Against a sputtering Bears offense, the threat of padding that lead from one point to four might have proved imposing.
Run the ball three times and send Phil Dawson in for a routine kick? Force nervy Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky to lead a fourth-quarter touchdown drive?
Probably a logical formula to up the pressure on an offense that hasn’t yet proved it can shoulder the load.
Yet on second-and-8 from the Bears 21, the Cardinals elected to pass. Bradford took a shotgun snap. And, well, we all know what happened next.
Feeling pressure in the pocket, Bradford shuffled around for a second or two, then decided to scamper forward. Like a naive swimmer splashing into the ocean on Amity Island.
You could almost hear the deep tuba playing the warning of Bradford’s demise. Suddenly, there was a dorsal fin with a navy No. 52 stamped on it.
Out of nowhere, Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack darted toward the Cardinals' quarterback.
Mack dived at Bradford’s lower body and arrived with such force that his right elbow jarred the football loose.
Danny Trevathan jumped on it. The Bears celebrated, then watched the offense march 59 yards for a game-winning field goal.
Bears 16, Cardinals 14.
Once again, Khalil Mack had been Khalil Mack. Once again, Khalil Mack had saved the day.
“I just saw 52 making a play,” Trevathan said. “And I was just trying to make another one, hopping on that ball. The man is a highlight reel. He plays his tail off. He appreciates the game. And he has that leadership factor to him. It’s hard to explain the feeling. But it rubs off on everyone.”
Yes, this is getting a bit ridiculous. But only because it has been so much fun for the Bears. The Khalil Mack experience has been everything it was advertised to be. And then some.
When September began, the Bears had a promising defense that was looking to identify its game-changing playmakers. Now they’re talking about becoming the No. 1 defense in the league. Right now. And such vows don’t even warrant an eye-roll.
The energy Mack has injected into an already talented and hungry Bears defense has been eye-opening. The entertainment Mack has provided for Bears fans has been off the charts.
And keep in mind, as of Sunday afternoon, Mack had only been with the franchise for 23 days.
With as many gifts as the Cardinals provided Sunday — four turnovers, three personal-foul penalties — nothing has been more exciting for the Bears than the present general manager Ryan Pace gave them on Labor Day weekend with the trade that changed everything.
Just like that, the Bears have themselves an All-Pro playmaker, an every-week game-changer, a generational talent who certainly looks like he has Hall of Fame potential. And he’s under contract through 2024.
For the third consecutive game this season, Mack forced a fumble Sunday. For the third consecutive week, he also collected a sack. His first came in the final minute of the second quarter and may have proved just as important. Three plays after a costly Mitch Trubisky interception in Bears territory, Mack completely overpowered guard Mike Iupati — a 331-pound, four-time Pro Bowl selection — and pounced on Bradford for a 7-yard loss.
It backed the Cardinals up from the Bears 32 to the 39. Out of field-goal range. Potential points again taken off the board.
This has become the expectation. This is how turnarounds accelerate. The Bears have proved this month that they have a big-time defense with one-big time headliner to jump-start everything.
On his way out of the locker room, Mack was asked what gratification he took out of being able to provide such a significant immediate impact with his new team, delivering exactly the kinds of contributions the Bears really needed. He smiled.
“God is good,” Mack said. “God is good, man.”
A suddenly hope-filled Bears fan base can’t disagree.