'So. (Bleeping). Ready': A year after dazzling Bears debut, Khalil Mack can't wait for Packers

'So. (Bleeping). Ready': A year after dazzling Bears debut, Khalil Mack can't wait for Packers

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Aaron Rodgers sacked by Khalil Mack, AP photo

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is sacked by Bears linebacker Khalil Mack during the first half on Sunday, Dec. 16, 2018 at Soldier Field in Chicago. Rodgers was dropped five times, threw one interception and had a rating of 68.9 as the Bears won 24-17.

It has been seven months, three weeks and six days since Khalil Mack last hit an opponent in an NFL game. Which would explain why Mack leaned his head back Monday afternoon, smiled widely and, in his chill but emphatic way, offered this proclamation.

"So. (Bleeping). Ready," Mack said.

You're welcome, NFL marketing team. There's the latest bold-lettered caption to add to the movie poster for Thursday night's blockbuster between the Bears and Packers at Soldier Field.

The Bears are a team with legitimate Super Bowl hopes. An elite defense remains their driving force. And it's Mack who is the engine of that defense. Now, after the grind of training camp and an August in which he didn't get even a small taste of game action, Mack is itching to get going.

So. (Bleeping). Ready. Just to be exact.

"It's been so long, I feel like," Mack said. "I'm looking forward to going out there Thursday and getting to the grind with my brothers."

Oh, and lest we forget that Thursday night's feature will be a sequel after the Bears and Packers opened the 2018 season on a prime-time stage at Lambeau Field.

You remember that night, right Khalil? That breathtaking first half in which you had a strip-sack of DeShone Kizer followed one possession later by an interception return for a touchdown? All that barely a week after joining the team?

"The only thing I can remember now is that we didn't win the game," Mack said. "You know what I mean? Ultimately, you do those things to be in position to win the game. And that's all I can think about from that game every time I look at the highlights. You still want to win the game."

Fair enough.

The Bears did indeed lose that night, a heartbreaking 24-23 setback after Aaron Rodgers authored an unforgettable Packers comeback. But others at Halas Hall still recall the energy jolt they got with Mack playing his first game in a Bears uniform and making his presence felt immediately.

"I just said, 'Holy hell!'" coach Matt Nagy recalled Monday. "I did. I couldn't believe it. I know he was working out, but we didn't know (what he'd bring the first game). . It was surreal. That's a half that I'll never forget."

KHALIL MACK TDs: 1

PACKERS TDs: 0

@NFLpic.twitter.com/z7pspeI3kV

- SB Nation (@SBNation) September 10, 2018

Bears defensive end Roy Robertson-Harris was the one at Kizer's ankles when the Packers backup quarterback rushed a screen pass that Mack darted in front of and took 27 yards to the end zone. Robertson-Harris put Kizer on his back, then popped up to celebrate.

"I thought it was an incomplete pass," Robertson-Harris said. "Then I looked up at the Jumbotron and saw Mack running with the ball. . So I jumped up to block somebody. That was fun. Seeing guys fly around and make plays is always fun."

Bears receiver Taylor Gabriel had started the night with plenty of curiosity about what Mack's arrival might do.

"I was like everybody else," Gabriel said. "I wanted to see what he could do and how big he was."

And after Mack scored his touchdown, Gabriel felt a major adrenaline rush.

"He came back to the sideline and was like, 'This is what you guys wanted, right?'" Gabriel said. "I was like, 'Yeah. That's exactly what we wanted.'"

Those Michael Bay-like explosives will be hard for Mack to replicate Thursday night. And with his "Don't talk about it, be about it" approach, it wasn't a surprise that the All-Pro edge rusher steered around making any bold statements about how good the Bears defense can be this season.

"We could talk about it all day," Mack said. "You know what I mean? But until we go out and show you guys . That's my whole thought process in this whole thing - the whole offseason, missing the whole preseason - is to go out and show why we do what we do and why we are who we are."

Mack loves that an established defense remains hungry.

"It's all the little things, man," he said. "You see all the small communication things and just guys knowing each other better and knowing how to respond off of what we do and knowing how to respond when things are moving a little too slow.

"You can tell. You can get that feeling. It's new in those different ways. At the same time, it's still the same old guys."

The same old guys with the same old united and driven mindset.

"We're about camaraderie, man," Mack said. "Just playing for each other. There's no selfish guy in the room, in this whole building. You can feel it when you're in the huddle. You can feel it when you're playing. Everybody's playing for each other. That's ultimately what this game is all about."

Mack can also feel his anticipation building for Thursday night. It's time.

The sting of last season's playoff loss, the pent-up energy from the preseason, the excitement for opening night and the season ahead. It's all pumping through his veins.

"I can't wait to go out and take this out on somebody else."

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