The Bears activated Pro Bowl DL Akiem Hicks from IR Saturday ahead of their must-win battle against the rival Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field Sunday. Chicago also announced that TE Ben Braunecker (concussion) was sent to the season-ending injured reserve list and starters Taylor Gabriel (concussion) and Bobby Massie (ankle) didn't travel with the team to Green Bay.
Hicks, the Bears' leader in sacks (24) and tackles for loss (39) since his 2016 arrival, was placed on injured reserve Oct. 15 with a dislocated left elbow, which he suffered on the eighth defensive snap of the Week 5 loss to the Oakland Raiders in London. Hicks had just returned from a knee injury that sidelined him in the previous week's win over the Vikings for the first time with the Bears.
"With Akiem, again, none of it is live in practice, but we like what we’re seeing with him. ... I like what I’ve seen all week long from him," head coach Matt Nagy said of Hicks, who first resumed practicing in Week 14 and will make the earliest return possible from short-term IR Sunday.
The Bears defense has performed quite well following early growing pains in the absence of their best lineman, ranking third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per attempt (3.7) and points permitted (17.8). However, the pass rush has cooled off considerably, with OLBs Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd in particular missing the benefit of all the double teams Hicks regularly commands.
Although he's unlikely to be 100 percent immediately upon returning Sunday, Hicks should provide a huge emotional boost in addition to his imposing physical presence. The Bears praised one of their biggest and best defensive leaders for sticking so close to the team during his most extensive NFL injury absence, making regular practice appearances and helping D-line coach Jay Rodgers on gameday.
“[I feel] really good,” Hicks said Thursday at Halas Hall. “It’s a tough situation to take your athleticism from an athlete. So for the first few weeks, I couldn’t really run around, I couldn’t really do the things I was accustomed to doing. Now that I’m getting back into the flow of things, I’m starting to feel my body waking up and getting back to being an athlete again. So it’s a good feeling.”
The Bears' spirits have increasingly brightened over the past month, too, when they've won three in a row and four of the past five, clawing their way back above .500 and into the playoff picture — barely. An upset of the division-leading Packers Sunday would double their flickering postseson odds ... from roughly five to 10 percent. But a loss all but extinguishes any remaining dreams of making back-to-back postseason appearances for the first time in a decade.
Indeed, the Bears still need plenty of help if their NFC North title defense season — the franchise's centennial campaign — is to extend into the new year in a return to the playoffs. But at least the still can dream, and in the 6-4, 352-pound Hicks, whose nickname is "The Dream," a massive reinforcement officially has arrived.
“Isn’t that beautiful, just to see the adversity and the grit and the fight that these guys had to go through, and I couldn’t help. To be in this position at this time in the season, you have to take advantage of it,” Hicks said.