Notre Dame Fighting Irish In The NFL: Manti Te’o Starts For Chicago Bears In Wild Card Matchup
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Irish In The NFL: Manti Te’o Starts For Chicago Bears In Wild Card Matchup

When linebacker Manti Te’o reported to the Chicago Bears’ practice squad in late October, most didn’t think much of the addition. He was eight years removed from finishing second in voting for the Heisman Trophy — the first defense-only player to accomplish such a feat since 1980 — and had appeared in just eight games since 2018, starting four.

Te’o stayed on the practice squad, relegating him inactive for each of the Bears’ remaining 10 regular-season contests. Then in the finale against the Green Bay Packers, second-team All-Pro linebacker Roquan Smith injured his elbow. A few days later, fans learned Smith would miss the Bears’ wild card matchup against the New Orleans Saints.

Suddenly, Te’o went from the practice squad to the active roster. But even with Smith out, how much would the eight-year veteran play against his former team?

As it turns out, quite a bit.

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Former Notre Dame Fighting Irish football linebacker Manti Te’o
Former Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o started for the Chicago Bears in their 21-9 loss to the New Orleans Saints in the NFL playoffs. ((Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports))

Te’o trotted out with the starting lineup and played 58 snaps (69 percent of available defensive snaps), recording six tackles and, for the most part, performing admirably in pass coverage.

His biggest play of the game may have come on a goal-line stand halfway through the fourth quarter. On fourth-and-one, Saints quarterback Drew Brees ran up the middle, leaped into the air and stretched the ball toward the end zone where he was met by Te’o’s shoulder. Initially, it was ruled a touchdown — but upon further review, the call was overturned and the Bears received the football.

At this point, the game was already out of reach with the Bears trailing 21-3, but this was an inspired effort for a player and team with their backs against the wall.

Kmet Flagged at Critical Moment

On the other side of the ball, three former Notre Dame players started for the Bears: offensive linemen Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars, and tight end Cole Kmet.

Kmet caught three passes for 16 yards. After the game, however, the play everyone was talking about was a one-yard reception on second-and-six in the red zone that resulted in a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

“We ran the play and I hit No. 27 [safety Malcolm Jenkins] and we went to the ground,” Kmet said. “We got up and we were kind of just laughing about the play. I tossed the ball to the ref and then looked over and there’s a flag on the ground.

“They told me I was throwing the ball egregiously at No. 27, but that just wasn’t the case. Later in the game, No. 27 even said they got away with one there.”

After a 12-point loss, it would be wrong to say that was the difference in the game, but it did take the wind out of a promising offensive Chicago drive.

“That was a critical moment early in the game,” Kmet said. “We had an opportunity to go down after a turnover and put seven points on the board. Then we were in a spot where we had to fight for field position to kick a field goal.

“That was really unfortunate for that to happen in that situation in the game.”

Former Notre Dame Football Players In The NFL: Wild Card Weekend

• Alex Bars (Played at Notre Dame from 2014-18), OL, Chicago Bears: Started for the ninth game in a row in the 8-8 Bears’ 21-9 loss at New Orleans … Appeared in all 16 regular-season games.

• Miles Boykin (2015-18), WR, Baltimore Ravens: Was targeted once in the 11-5 Ravens’ 20-13 victory at Tennessee … Notched 19 receptions for 266 yards and three scores over the course of 16 games in the regular season.

• Chase Claypool (2016-19), WR, Pittsburgh Steelers: Snagged five catches for 59 yards and two touchdowns in the 12-4 Steelers’ 48-37 loss to Cleveland … In 16 regular-season games, contributed 62 receptions for 873 yards and nine touchdowns, 10 carries for 16 yards and two scores, and six special teams tackles in 16 games … Became the first wide receiver in the Super Bowl era to score 10 touchdowns in his first 10 NFL games.

• Sheldon Day (2012-15), DL, Cleveland Browns: Recently signed to the 11-5 Browns’ practice squad, but was not active for their 48-37 win over the Steelers ... Waived by the Indianapolis Colts a month ago … Spent the start of the season on injured reserve and had just two tackles with one pass defended in four games this season.

• Tony Jones Jr. (2016-19), RB, New Orleans Saints: Did not play in the 12-4 Saints’ 21-9 victory over the Bears ... Recorded three carries for 13 yards in one regular-season game.

• Cole Kmet (2017-19), TE, Chicago Bears: Recorded three catches for 16 yards in the 8-8 Bears’ 21-9 loss at New Orleans … Played in all 16 regular-season games as a rookie, and had 28 catches for 243 yards and two touchdowns.

• Cole Luke (2013-16), DB, Washington Football Team: Played special teams in 7-9 Washington’s 31-23 loss to Tampa Bay … Notched one tackle in four games during the regular season.

• Sam Mustipher (2014-18), OL, Chicago Bears: Started at center for the seventh game in a row in the 8-8 Bears’ 21-9 loss to the Saints ... Saw action in nine regular-season contests this fall.

• Quenton Nelson (2014-17), OL, Indianapolis Colts: Started and played every snap in the 11-5 Colts’ 27-24 loss at Buffalo … Played in every game this season.

• C.J. Prosise (2012-15), RB, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Signed to the 11-5 Buccaneers' practice squad last week, but did not play in their 31-23 win at Washington … In 10 games played with the Houston Texans, had 10 carries for 19 yards plus five receptions for 19 yards and a score.

• Equanimeous St. Brown (2015-17), WR, Green Bay Packers: The 13-3 Packers had a first-round bye … Has seven catches for 117 yards and a touchdown, one carry for seven yards and one tackle on special teams in nine regular-season games.

• Ronnie Stanley (2012-15), OL, Baltimore Ravens: Did not play in the 11-5 Ravens’ 20-13 win over the Titans … After signing a five-year, $98.75 million contract extension Oct. 30, he suffered a season-ending ankle injury.

• Manti Te’o (2009-12), LB, Chicago Bears: Was elevated from the practice squad and started in the 8-8 Bears’ 21-9 loss to the Saints … After not making the active roster all season, registered six tackles in the playoff game.

• Stephon Tuitt (2011-13), DL, Pittsburgh Steelers: Recorded six tackles in the 12-4 Steelers’ 48-37 loss to the Browns … Notched 46 tackles (13 for loss), 11 sacks, two forced fumbles and 26 quarterback hits in 15 regular-season games.

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