Forgive Montez Sweat if his enthusiasm wasn’t exactly flowing late Sunday afternoon.
A day after signing a life-changing contract extension with the Chicago Bears — four years, $98 million with more than $72 million guaranteed — Sweat’s first public comments about that deal and his football future came in the minutes after his new team suffered its seventh loss of a wayward season.
With a tough-to-swallow 24-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints inside the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, the stumbling Bears had a lot more on their minds than the continued orientation of their new standout pass rusher. And Sweat, who started the week on the practice field in Washington and finished it with a modest two-tackle effort for the Bears against the Saints, was still too caught up in the whirlwind to give much of a deep breakdown on all that has happened to him and for him in recent days.
“It’s been a fast week,” he said. “I’ve really just been taking it day by day.”
But that big contract had to feel gratifying when it was finalized, no?
“It’s huge,” Sweat said. “It’s what you’ve been working for since you got in the league. So that was great. But I’m more worried about getting a win.”
As for Sunday’s debut with an improving Bears defense, Sweat realized it was a small first step on what will be a demanding climb. “I feel like once I get more comfortable and once I start knowing the plays, I can play faster and all those types of things,” he said. “So we’re going to see.”
There wasn’t an immediate splash from the 6-foot-6, 262-pound pass rusher in Sunday’s loss. His first tackle came on a 13-yard Taysom Hill run in the fourth quarter and he later stopped Saints running back Jamaal Williams for a 2-yard gain.
Sweat’s biggest contribution was a third-quarter sequence during which he beat Saints right tackle Ryan Ramczyk around the edge and then swatted Derek Carr’s right shoulder to cause a third-down incompletion. Initially, it looked like a possible strip sack with safety Eddie Jackson scooping the loose football and racing to the end zone. But officials ruled it a dead ball.
Admittedly, that was a small and encouraging flash.
“But that wasn’t enough,” Sweat said. “I’ve got to get there more. I have to have more production.”
Bears coach Matt Eberflus said the plan coming into Sunday was to use Sweat primarily on third downs and in 2-minute situations while mixing him in at other spots that made sense.
Sweat noted the necessary chemistry that comes when an entire defensive line can rush the passer with a collective fluidity was there “in moments” Sunday.
“But it’s definitely not all the way there yet. I’m still getting to know these guys. I’m still learning how they rush so I can play off them and they can play off me. I’m sure that will come somewhere down the line.”
Overall, Sweat contributed to a defensive effort Sunday in which the Bears held New Orleans to 301 total yards and somehow limited the Saints to 7 points on five fourth-quarter possessions which all started inside Bears territory.
But Sunday’s game summary centered directly on the turnover margin, with the Saints scoring a 5-0 knockout, including three interceptions off Bears rookie quarterback Tyson Bagent.
For the 10th time in the Matt Eberflus era, the Bears defense went without a takeaway. For the eighth time, the Bears didn’t have a sack. For the fourth time, they had neither.
Presumably, the addition of Sweat should help change that in the short term. In a best-case scenario, his presence will help open a faucet of impact plays over the next four-plus seasons. But it’s also worth pointing out the Bears made a top-dollar investment in a player with 35 1/2 sacks and 85 quarterback hits over his first 68 career games.
Even Sweat seemed to acknowledge the comforts of his new contract would also create a new set of expectations.
“It’s security,” he said. “But, I mean, it also creates more (demand) for me to get it done.”
On Sunday, Sweat lamented that he didn’t produce more, even with the circumstances of playing on the road in a new defense after a chaotic week.
“Football is football,” he said. “I was getting one-on-ones. I have to win those. Now we have to get back to the drawing board, check the film and see what I can do better going forward.”
As for how some of Sweat’s teammates processed his first game, Jackson senses the Bears defense will have an added edge going forward.
“It’s always a boost when you have a guy like that, who is that dominant can play the run and the pass and is all over the field,” he said. “Obviously, I’m pretty sure he’ll have things he wants to get cleaned up and work on learning our playbook so he can be out there more with us. But it’s always a boost when you add new talent to the group.”
Cornerback Jaylon Johnson said last week he would be bothered if Sweat landed an extension with the Bears before he did. But Johnson took the high road when asked Sunday how he reacted to Sweat’s new deal.
“I’m happy for him,” Johnson said with a smile. “He’s a high-quality guy. He is a guy who plays this game at a high level. And he definitely deserved to get that.”
Defensive tackle Andrew Billings, who got his own extension last week albeit a much more modest one, expressed appreciation for Sweat’s effort Sunday given the chaos of his week.
“He’s been here for three days,” Billings said. “That’s not easy to do. For anybody. He stepped up and did the best he could. We’ll go back and watch it all on film and see everything. I think he played hard and he didn’t worry about making mistakes.”
The big next step, of course, will require Sweat to get acclimated as quickly as possible so he can emerge as an every-week game-changer for a team that is low on them.