Here’s why Oakland coach Jon Gruden should share credit for Chicago Bears’ NFC North title

CHICAGO — The Chicago Bears should send Jon Gruden a gift. Maybe a fruit basket. Or dinner at his favorite Las Vegas restaurant.

Ooh, I know! They can give Gruden one of their playoff shares!

Boneheaded as Gruden’s decision was to cut Khalil Mack loose, it’s been transformative for Chicago. The Bears are headed to the playoffs for the first time since 2010 after winning the NFC North title Sunday, and it’s safe to say they wouldn’t be in this position if not for the Mack trade the weekend before the season began.

The Bears had a rookie head coach in Matt Nagy, and Mitchell Trubisky was beginning only his second full season as a starter since high school. Finishing around .500 would have been a monumental step forward for a team that had finished at the bottom of the NFC North the previous four seasons.

But Mack brought a swagger and an edge to the Bears, who have completed an impressive worst-to-first turnaround. With two weeks left in the season, they’ve already clinched a spot in the playoffs and still have an outside shot at a first-round bye.

Yes, the rest of the NFC North has been a colossal disappointment. But that does not take away from the Bears’ resurgence and Mack’s role in it. 

“It was a great feeling. Great feeling,” said Mack, who exchanged high-fives with fans as he ran off the field following Sunday’s 24-17 win. “Pretty self-explanatory, when you think about the situation.”

Mack doesn’t say much, and the next time he talks trash or says anything that could be considered as bulletin board material will be the first. But his play and his dedication have elevated not only the defense, but everyone who wears the blue and orange. There’s something about knowing you have the best at his position — heck, the best defensive player in the NFL — that makes you hit a little harder, run a little faster, play with a little more confidence.

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