The Morning After: Effort until the end for Akiem Hicks again

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CHICAGO, IL – DECEMBER 20: Chicago Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks (96) celebrates after a play during a game between the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings on December 20, 2021, at Soldier Field in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

CHICAGO – Two years ago, almost around the same date, the Bears were eliminated from playoff contention by an NFC North rival.

That was December 15, 2019 against the Packers in Green Bay, and the situation was similar for the Bears. While their playoff chances were remote, an opportunity existed for the team to sneak in the postseason if they won out.

Even with the odds small, and even though he was hurting, one of the Bears’ defenders gave it his all to keep hope alive.

GREEN BAY, WISCONSIN – DECEMBER 15: Akiem Hicks #96 of the Chicago Bears reacts in the second half against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on December 15, 2019 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

In his first game since he injured his elbow on October 6th against the Raiders, and still with big brace on left arm, Akiem Hicks came off the reserve list to try and help the Bears pull off the upset in Green Bay. A number of times he would come back to the sidelines in obvious pain as he met with athletic trainers.

In the fourth quarter, it appeared he was knocked out, but still came back to try and give the Bears a chance. Hicks’ presence was apparent, as the defense had strong push on the line with the defensive end back in as the unit once again kept the Bears in position for a win.

Hicks finished with four tackles and hit Aaron Rodgers twice, but it wasn’t enough as the Packers won it 21-13 to eliminate the Bears. Let the effort was one of a few that’s made the lineman one of the more popular members of the team over the last decade.

The next morning, I wrote about my admiration for the effort that came on a day when HIcks didn’t have to play, since it was obvious his elbow was still in pain.

Two years later, that sentiment hasn’t changed.

On a Monday night against the Vikings, once again with slim playoff hopes still existing, Hicks came back after an injury that sidelined him for over a month and delivered a strong performance.

There were no signs that his ankle was bothering him as he got to Kirk Cousins for a pair of sacks while registering four quarterback hits on the evening. His efforts along with those backups in the secondary helped the team make up for heavy COVID-19 absences, holding Minnesota to just 193 total yards.

It wasn’t enough, as a common Matt Nagy-era theme crept up as a strong defensive effort was offset by offensive issues in a 17-9 defeat that officially eliminated the Bears from the playoffs.

Not that it mattered to Hicks, for there is consequence for him is on every snap, which he’s proved often in Chicago.

“I think that one of the things that gets lost in the whole business side of it is that these guys are spending their life energy on this. Whether the team is winning or not, we’re spending our every day doing this and trying to be better at it, trying to win games, and so I think that with the outcomes that we’ve had through the course of this year, it was heavy,” said Hicks when asked about the challenge of the past week when the Bears were hit hard by COVID-19 cases. “But I think that you’ve got to lean in, lean on one another, lean on your boys. I lean on some of the young guys; I need you, bro. I need you to come through for me on this play. I need you to support me right now. We need to keep this gap tight.

“You can’t be afraid as a teammate to lean on your guys and say, hey, I need your help. I think that’s what we did this week is really understood that there was no way we were going to perform well today if we didn’t lean on each other.”

Once again, the Bears certainly leaned on him, but how long that will continue is still to be determined since his contract expires at the end of this season. Any attempts for a long-term deal have stalled so far, and the reality that his six-year run in the city may be coming to an end.

Hicks understood that on Monday night, and had a major celebration on his first sack, with a nod to those in the crowd at Soldier Field.

“I was pointing to the people that cheered for me, the people that love me, the people that love how I play the game,” said Hicks of the first sack celebration. “I was pointing to them, letting them know I appreciate them for my time. They’re always yelling my name. I’m going to show some love back.”

Over the years, Hicks showed his through his play in games like the one in December of 2019 and on Monday night. His efforts never wained even if the Bears’ fortunes did.

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