LAKE FOREST – Despite being eliminated from playoff contention at 7-7 with two games remaining, Bears coach Matt Nagy plans to play his starters against the Kansas City Chiefs this week on “Sunday Night Football” and in the finale in Minnesota against the Vikings on Dec. 29.
That includes Pro Bowl defensive lineman Akiem Hicks, 30, who was activated from injured reserve to play his first game Sunday in eight weeks and aggravated his dislocated left elbow, requiring multiple visits to the blue medical tent. Nagy after the game praised Hicks’ toughness, referring to him as a “warrior,” and doubled down on that assessment Monday at Halas Hall.
“We want to continue to just keep going forward with him like we’ve been. I don’t look at this as changing anything with that,” Nagy said. “Now we’ve [got to] talk through all that, and I think that’s the biggest thing is making sure that we’re all on the same page, but I know Akiem’s gonna want to be out there and playing and helping out our defense as much as he can.
“I will say this in regards to how he played yesterday: He was unbelievable. I thought he played lights out. Even all the stuff, fighting through the aggravations of the injury throughout the game, the way he played and the plays he made yesterday, that was fun. We missed that. That was fun to watch.”
Although Hicks returned Sunday, when the Bears were without three starters still on the active roster – Taylor Gabriel, Bobby Massie and Danny Trevathan – Prince Amukamara rotated with Kevin Toliver at cornerback in his first game back from a hamstring injury before being replaced in the second half.
“It was managing reps. It was more of that. It wasn’t performance,” Nagy said of Amukamara, who struggled in coverage and missed a tackle on the Packers’ second touchdown. “It was just managing reps. Kevin Toliver was doing well. It was a nice balance of being able to do that.”
Unlike Hicks and Massie, there are legitimate questions whether the impending free agent Trevathan, as well as Amukamara and Gabriel – who have minimal guaranteed money remaining on their contracts and are no longer clearly better than younger teammates – will be back in 2020. Would it behoove the Bears, then, to end their seasons, increasing the evaluation opportunities for others? By contrast, would it make the most sense to let Hicks and Massie begin fully healing for next season, same as the three respected veterans who could need to maximize their earning power on the open market?
“The one positive that we do have here in this building is togetherness ... so we’ll talk through everything, and we’ll make sure that it’s the right decision for all parties included,” Nagy said. “I think that’s the only way to go about it. But ... I really am looking forward to our team finishing and playing really hard these last two games. We can do that. So my message to the guys is, we’re rolling. There’s nothing that changes. It stinks that we can’t get to the playoffs, but that’s on us. We made this. Hopefully, we learn from it and remember this feeling. But these next two games, to us, are very important and we’re gonna play them hard.”
Mitch vs. Mahomes? Even the most casual Bears observer is painfully aware that the Bears traded up one spot in the 2017 draft to No. 2 overall and selected Mitch Trubisky over reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes and MVP candidate Deshaun Watson.
But if any Bears fan has only recently awakened from a two-plus-year slumber, rest assured, they’ll be reminded this weekend as Mahomes’ Chiefs visit Trubisky’s Bears. Thus, Nagy on Monday reminded everyone that Sunday night won’t directly pit his unfulfilling quarterback with Kansas City’s unassailable one.
“I don’t get into that,” Nagy said when asked about the timing of playing his former team, the Mahomes-led AFC West champs, one week after his Bears’ playoff elimination. “I understand what you’re saying. But they have a good season going right now; they’re playing well. Obviously, I have the utmost respect for Coach [Andy] Reid. He’s taught me everything. I’ve learned a lot from him. Everybody in that organization, that building, I’m friends with. They’ve helped me to this point. But at the same time, when we get rolling, it has nothing to do with a 1-on-1 battle. It’s everything about these two teams.”