GREEN BAY – Warm dreams of a February in the sun died on the frozen tundra in the growing darkness of December, and you would’ve used John Facenda to read that line, too.
What transpired over the course of 60 minutes was an NFL Films-type story of the 2019 Bears’ season. The famous narrator for the league, who made his fame talking about contests in the very stadium the team’s 14th game was played on Sunday, had the narrative play out in front of him.
The team started slow, stopped the bleeding, then let it get away again before a furious rally brought the team back into it. But in the end, despite a heart-stopping finish, the Bears came out on the losing end.
Packers 21 Bears 13.
For a seventh time this season, Matt Nagy’s team found themselves on the wrong end of a final score, and this one officially knocked them out of the playoffs. There will be no hope for redemption from their Wild Card loss from a year ago as only pride sits ahead of them for the final two games of what has been a disappointing season.
But what took place in this 60 minutes was not just another contest indicative of a campaign, but also the confirmation of the man you could say is the heart and soul of this particular team. How can you not look at what Number 96 on the defensive line on Sunday and not think that?
Of all the performances by the Bears in 2019, Akiem Hicks’ against the Packers might have been the most inspiring along with one of the best on the defense all season long.
“It was everything. My defensive line mates saw the energy and they were excited for me to be able to go back out there because they know how much I miss it,” said Hicks of coming back to the lineup. “I was happy that I got to play today.”
With a sizable brace on his right arm still protecting an elbow that remains on the mend from a serious injury October 6th against the Raiders, Hicks fought through noticeable pain to keep playing for those teammates. In the first and second half, television broadcast cameras caught Hicks coming to the sidelines in pain, grimacing while talking with athletic trainers then making his way to the injury tent.
Yet each time, No. 96 was back out in the huddle on a chilly day at Lambeau Field, taking to the rocky turf with the same enthusiasm and aggression that’s become his signature with the franchise.
“It just speaks to who he is as a person, his toughness,” said Nagy of Hicks’ ability to shake off the injury. “He aggravated it a few times in the middle of the game and you’re never really sure what happens. For him to fight back like that and be back out there as a warrior with his team, we appreciated that.”
Even while hurting, Hicks was still able to create push on the defensive line, which became his signature during his first two seasons in Chicago and then his Pro Bowl campaign of 2018. He finished with four tackles on the day and was able to get to quarterback Aaron Rodgers for a pair of hits. The defense was far from perfect, as back-to-back scoring drives to start the second half showed, but the group held the rest of the way to give the offense a shot to turn it around.
Hicks didn’t have to do this.
With the severity of the injury, and the remote chance that the Bears were going to have to make it to the postseason with the outside help needed, shutting down to prepare for 2020 would have been understandable. While the season didn’t completely fall apart, as it looked like it might in early November, the lofty goals for the 100th year of the franchise were likely not going to be met if the defensive end was out there or not.
But he was, just as you’d expect from a leader, continuing to show why he’s one of the faces of this current era of the franchise.
“Just keep fighting, and I think that is the character of this team. You saw it out there today. We were down 21-3 and guys rallied.,” said Hicks when asked about the team being 7-7. “We have good character guys, I know you have heard that a million times, and I know it doesn’t make it any easier.”
Hicks did make it clear to see who’ll be the inspiration for this franchise as they try to rally back in 2020, leading by example through the pain on a chilly and eventually lost day in Green Bay.