In a way, it feels oddly poetic that the NFL tested Nick Kwiatkoski for Performance Enhancing Drugs after the Bears' 20-13 win. Sunday afternoon wasn't the first time the Bears have called on the fourth-year linebacker to fill in on short notice, and once again, Kwiatkowski delivered. Of the many requests Kwiatkoski had to fulfill after the biggest game of his pro career, only the NFL-mandated one was random.
"I've said it before, as a linebacker room, we prepare like we're going to play," he said. "Every one of us – as a defense, really. Things happen throughout the course of a game, through the course of a season, and you have to be ready for it."
Kwiatkowski was thrown into the fire on Sunday when starter Danny Trevathan landed awkwardly on his arm, suffering what looked like a gruesome elbow injury. The Bears listed his return as questionable, but Trevathan didn't return to action. He was later seen in the Bears' locker room with the hurt arm in a sling.
"It's awesome," Matt Nagy said. "Kwik's been doing this all year long. You hate to lose a guy like Danny like that because he's such a leader for us.
"That's what it's all about. It's that message we have about sweeping the sheds – not being too big to do the little things. He's a pure example of that."
Playing significant snaps on almost no notice for the second time this season, Kwiatkoski had one of the best afternoons of anyone on the Bears' defense. He had one of the team's two sacks, led the defense in solo tackles (8), and grabbed the first interception of his NFL career.
"[I was] just reading the quarterback," he said. "He kind of had his eyes on the receiver. I didn't really know what route he was running, but I had my eyes in the backfield. It was just seeing him release the ball."
Sunday afternoon's performance against the Lions felt similar to the Bears' Week 4 win against the Vikings, when Kwiatkoski learned he'd start in place of Roquan Smith – out for personal reasons – only a few hours before kickoff. He'd finish that game with a team-high nine tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He's by no means a household name, but these performances aren't surprising anyone on the defense.
"I've been a fan of Nick since my rookie year," safety Eddie Jackson said. "We played with each other during the preseason of my rookie year, and I could see the type of talent that he has. It's always next man up.
"Nick could start anywhere in the league as a linebacker."
There's no real silver lining to the Trevathan injury, and it certainly feels like it's Kwiatkoski's job to lose going forward. After spending the better part of the last four years preparing like he's the presumptive starter, that may now actually be the case.
"It's not the way I wanted it," he said. "Danny's a close friend of mine. I'll talk with him and move forward."