The latest addition to the Montez Sweat highlight reel came in the second quarter Sunday, a disciplined pass rush on a play-action pass by Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray.
Murray completed his fake to running back Michael Carter, turned back to roll right but found Sweat waiting nearby. Murray stopped and tried floating a pass to tight end Elijah Higgins. But Sweat, with all the ease of Shaquille O’Neal playing pickup hoops with elementary school kids, calmly rose and rejected the throw.
In the moment, it felt almost cartoonish with how calmly and easily Sweat shut that play down. But those contributions have been coming regularly over the past two months as Sweat has helped fuel the ascent of the Chicago Bears defense.
Following the team’s 27-16 win Sunday, the 27-year-old pass rusher described the collective confidence flowing through the defense. “This group has been locked in,” he said. “We’re playing really well right now. We just have to keep it going.”
There is no doubt Sweat’s presence has been a significant catalyst to the defensive resurgence. “The Tez Effect,” as it’s called at Halas Hall, has been real. Before Sweat’s Week 9 arrival, the Bears were already making notable strides. But they have improved across the board since he took his first snap Nov. 5 in New Orleans.
Over the last seven games, the Bears have risen from 23rd in the NFL to 12th in total yards allowed and from 22nd to 11th in takeaways. Additionally, they have made modest strides in sack production and third-down defense. Sweat is also contributing to a run defense that is now the league’s best, allowing just 80.7 yards per game. Plus, he has been invigorated to join a unit that has shown undeniable chemistry and continues playing with an energizing combination of swagger and competitiveness.
“I see a hungry group here,” Sweat said. “These are guys who want to live up to the challenge every week, man. They want to be great. It’s cool. We play for the man beside us and I feel like that really shows on the field.”
Sweat believes an elevated standard is being established, which is fueling the contagious enthusiasm within the defense.
“If I make a play,” he said, “I’m going to look somebody else in the eyes and see if he is ready to match my energy. Just as the other guys do to me. That applies across the board. You want to be held to a high standard, not just by your coaches but your peers.”
Bears defensive line coach Travis Smith has had a front-row seat for Sweat’s acclimation at Halas Hall and has been impressed with how natural it has been for him to both fit in and emerge as a major difference maker.
“It’s been phenomenal,” Smith said. “It’s been seamless. He has fit in like he was here all offseason. He’s been in here working. He’s picked up our system. He has been playing 40-plus plays since the first game he was with us.”
Smith appreciates how natural the click has been for Sweat, particularly given the on-the-fly demands he has had of joining a new team and new teammates in a new city without much time to decompress and get his personal life settled.
“That’s part of who the man is, his character,” Smith said. “… Montez is obviously a phenomenal player. Physical. Disruptive. Factors into almost every play. But he’s a phenomenal person too. Selfless. Humble. All of that. That’s part of what has allowed him to fit in so well so quickly. It’s because our guys see that. And they appreciate it and respect that, too.”
Before the season began, while Sweat was preparing for a contract year with the Washington Commanders, he set a goal of reaching double figures in sacks for the first time in his career. Sweat reached that milestone with a 7-yard takedown of Lions quarterback Jared Goff earlier this month and tacked on 2 1/2 more sacks to his season total against the Cleveland Browns on Dec. 17.
“Now we’re just adding on,” he said.
When Sweat arrived at Halas Hall on Halloween, Smith had heard all the outside questions about how Sweat might produce after he left a stacked defensive line in Washington that also featured end Chase Young and tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne.
Sweat’s six sacks over seven games with the Bears have told Smith a little something.
“Maybe he’s the one who is creating these other opportunities,” Smith said. “Maybe he was a big part of what was happening in Washington that was allowing those other guys to have success. That’s a reflection of who he is.”
Sweat landed his second NFL contract just days after the Bears traded a second-round pick to acquire him. And that four-year, $98 million extension was both a nice reward and something for him to live up to. Smith has helped create a new bull’s-eye, congratulating Sweat on his first 10-sack season but then offering a few new achievement benchmarks.
“The whole goal for us now is a third contract,” he said. “So what’s the next thing for him? Keep stacking. … Screw double digits (in sacks). We start talking about the 20 pieces. When you talk about ‘Never put a ceiling on a man,’ when you start getting 20 pieces, you start talking about All-Pro, Hall of Fame, all that kind of stuff. So why settle for double digits?”
Settling isn’t in Sweat’s DNA. And he’s hopeful he can continue producing in a way that pushes the Bears defense through the finishing tape of this season with meaningful momentum and belief.
“We’re trying to finish on a strong note so that can carry over into next season,” Sweat said.