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Floyd’s best comes at critical time for Chicago Bears

December 18, 2018

The all-around performance that Leonard Floyd put on Sunday afternoon in the Bears’ NFC North-clinching victory over the Packers was exactly what G.M. Ryan Pace had in mind when he selected the lanky outside linebacker ninth overall in the 2016 draft.

Floyd’s sit-up-and-take-notice game may have been the best of his career. His six solo tackles were a personal best and included his fourth two-sack game as a pro.

“He was everywhere,” coach Matt Nagy said. “Talk about relentless, and it started with the very first play of the game (when Floyd stuffed Aaron Jones after a one-yard gain). They were all flying around, but he had a great game and you like to see that.”

It’s especially encouraging to the Bears to see an uptick in Floyd’s production as the games become more crucial. His value to the defense wasn’t as apparent on the stat sheet through most of the first half of the season, when he started every game despite playing with a broken hand suffered in the preseason.

Wearing a cast in various forms, covered by heavy padding, Floyd soldiered on, essentially playing with one hand and a club. He had no sacks through eight games but has had four in the last six.

“He had to be patient with himself because you could start pressing in those situations when the numbers aren’t there, but you know that you’re helping out the way you’re playing,” Nagy said. “Sometimes the (lack of) numbers can get out of whack just because you don’t have the sacks. But it’s starting to turn up now. You’re starting to see more numbers from him.”

By Week 10, when he finally got his first sack, Floyd was 100 percent, and the following week he had five tackles against the Vikings, including two for negative yardage. After Floyd played well against the Giants and Rams, defensive coordinator Vic Fangio downplayed his performance, but only because he expected it.

“I think he played the way he’s been playing of late, ever since he’s gotten over the hand injury and got comfortable using his hands,” Fangio said after the Rams game. “His play has picked up like I thought it would.”

Floyd was drafted so early because of a rare combination of size (6-foot-4, 251 pounds) and athleticism that make him a natural as a pass rusher. He had seven sacks as a rookie, despite playing in just 12 games because of a variety of injuries, but then dipped to 4.5 sacks in 2017 when injuries limited him to 10 games.

A healthy Floyd could be even more important to the Bears in coming weeks if top backup OLB Aaron Lynch’s elbow injury sidelines him for any length of time. Floyd produced some of his biggest plays Sunday at crunch time after Lynch was injured.

After Tarik Cohen’s fumble early in the fourth quarter, just outside the red zone, Floyd sacked Packers QB Aaron Rodgers on the ensuing play. The defense wound up forcing a three-and-out, which kept the score tied at 14.

“Every time we step out on the field, we want to get a three-and-out,” Floyd said. “Every time we got out there, that’s the mindset. Everybody going hard, making plays and trying to get the ball back to our offense.”

The Bears’ defense did that, and the offense responded with the go-ahead touchdown. Late in the fourth quarter, the Bears were nursing a 24-14 lead, but the Packers were nine yards away from the end zone. Floyd sacked a retreating Rodgers for an 18-yard loss, setting up a third-and-27 and forcing Green Bay to settle for a field goal with 11 seconds remaining.

“Man, I was glad because I missed him a couple plays before that,” Floyd said. “I was just hoping that I got another chance to finish him off, and I’m glad I did. It was a big win for us.”

And it was a big game for Floyd, whose best football is happening at the most opportune time.

“Obviously I don’t think he’s pressing anymore,” Nagy said. “Not that he was a lot before, but I think that it was in the back of his mind that he didn’t have any sacks. Now he’s just playing ball, and that’s what we need.”

It’s exactly what the Bears have been waiting for from Floyd.

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