Akiem Hicks' importance to the Bears, ironically, perhaps has never been more apparent than this season, the first in which the eight-year vet has missed considerable time with injury.
And following his minimum eight-week IR stint with the dislocated left elbow he suffered in London, the Pro Bowler reminded everyone of as much in returning to his familiar starting LDE post Sunday at Lambeau with a gutsy performance as the Bears were being eliminated from playoff contention.
“I love competition. I love riding with my guys," said Hicks, who recorded four tackles and two QB hits, playing 61 percent of the defensive snaps in a must-win game despite aggravating the injury and requiring regular medical attention. "So when I see us have an opportunity to extend our season, I’m gonna do everything in my power to add to that. So that was the goal this past weekend.”
But with the Bears officially unable to accomplish the goal of following up their surprise 2018 NFC North title with consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 2005-06, the only decision regarding Hicks must be shutting him down for the final two games and helping ensure he's best equipped to help them meet their goals next season.
“When things are on the line, that sense is heightened and you play even harder through worse circumstances. But the way our season has gone and the things that we don’t have in front of us, that changes perspective and we have to see what is the smartest move for the team going forward,” he said, adding that no final decision has been made.
Hicks left zero doubt Sunday of his toughness and willingness to keep playing — if that were what the Bears still needed from him. Instead, in what certainly could be a make-or-break 2020 season for some even higher up in the Bears organization than Hicks, what they'll need most is their "warrior" for 16 and hopefully more games next season.
“I put myself on the line so many times, I wouldn’t flinch to do it again. At a certain point you have to be smart," Hicks said. "That’s what the building’s for. That’s what the personnel department is for. That’s what our GM, our coaches are for, is to make the decisions that are best for the team and the players. I don’t really focus on that very much. Like I said, when my number’s called, that’s what I do.”
Hicks' 24 sacks and 39 tackles for loss since his 2016 arrival lead the Bears, despite missing a career-high nine games so far this season. His exit following only eight snaps in Week 5 with the elbow injury — after missing the previous week with a knee issue — immediately contributed to the Bears allowing consecutive 100-yard rushers — something they had done only twice in the previous 21 combined contests, all with Hicks.
Although the Bears steadied afterward against the run, where they currently rank 6th overall (4th in YPA), they plummeted this season from No. 9 in the NFL in sack percentage to 25th, with Khalil Mack and Leonard Floyd struggling the most with the added attention a healthy Hicks requires.
Motown mulligan: Despite a collaborative record through nearly two full seasons of 9-20-1, Matt Patricia and Bob Quinn will return as Detroit Lions head coach and general manager, respectively, the team confirmed Tuesday.
"We expect to be a playoff contender," owner Martha Firestone Ford told reporters, via the team's website. "That means playing meaningful games in December."
Detroit played meaningful football in December more often than not under Patricia's predecessor, Jim Caldwell, who was fired following back-to-back 9-7 seasons, with the winningest record in franchise history (36-28, two wild-card appearances).
Quinn, a former longtime New England Patriots executive, replaced Caldwell with the fellow longtime Patriot defensive coordinator Patricia, whose 'D' currently ranks 26th and 31st in yards and points allowed.
The unit's regression has been amplified this season by crippling attrition on offense, where franchise passing leader Matthew Stafford was in the midst of a career year when his ironman streak of 136 consecutive starts was halted by a season-ending back injury in Week 10, when the Lions were 3-4-1.
Patricia's Lions have lost seven consecutive games this season and have yet to beat Matt Nagy's Bears in four tries.