Bears rookie defensive tackle Stephen Paea came firing out of the gates against the Minnesota Vikings. Chicago coaches had deactivated him in each of the team's first five contest. Yet due to an injury to Matt Toeaina, Paea got his first chance to play in an NFL game this past Sunday. The Oregon State product put on a show in limited duty, racking up two tackles, a quarterback hit, a sack and a safety.
Bear Report spoke with Paea about his performance on Sunday, this week's matchup against the Buccaneers and more.
"Wow! I got a safety in my second-ever play of a regular season NFL game. That is every rookie's dream. You do the math, a sack and a safety in two plays. Some guys wait years for an opportunity like that. It just doesn't get any better than that. And the fact that I sacked McNabb … unbelievable. It was a blessing.
"Growing up he was definitely my favorite player. Eagles were definitely my favorite team as a kid. When I did flag football with my friends, I'd pretend it was him I'd be going after. And now, to have it actually happen? It's hard to wrap my mind around that.
DT Stephen Paea
Dennis Wierzbicki/US Presswire
"Over the years, since I was such a McNabb fan, I've paid close attention to how he moves. I knew how he scrambled, what he did with the ball. That certainly paid off big. I think he might be a little slower now, which certainly helped me catch him, but it's still McNabb, you know?
"It was hard to be patient on the sidelines all this time, waiting for my chance to get into a game but I hope that now I've proven I can get things done. What I was trying to do during that time was to watch everything that happened out there on the field.
"Every single play we ran, whether offense or defense, has something that's important to observe going on. Just because I was active last week doesn't mean that my watching the field will end. If anything, I'm going to pay even closer attention.
"It was really important for the team to have a strong showing last weekend. We need the positive momentum going into the remainder of the season. It was a statement game, a division game and something we can build on going forward.
"I've been asked how I was able to get myself into the game mentally so quickly without any apparent nerves. For me it was a matter of timing. The coaches told me I'd be playing right at the first of last week so I had a lot of time to prepare. Every day I'd wake up and think ‘OK, I've got a game this Sunday. I've got to focus.‘ That was my life 24/7. I think that any nerves I was going to have happened during that time.
"Then as the week progressed, I could feel my focus increasing. It's very different when you know you'll be in. You watch the film differently, you prepare differently. Instead of watching the offense as a whole, I'd be watching the quarterback and the offensive linemen exclusively.
"I wanted to see how the left guard set. What did the center tend to do? Did he give out any tips? Then on the practice field I'd watch how our scout team replicated that. I was so careful during practice that week to hit every move correctly. It's fundamental football.
"By game time Sunday I was eager, definitely ready to go. By the time we got to Soldier Field it was lights out. Everything else I'd been thinking about disappeared. I had complete concentration.
"Once the game started it was almost as if everything was going by me in slow motion, I was that concentrated. McNabb is so big he's easy to pick out. I charged in there as fast as I could and was able to wrap him up. I would have been happy enough just to get the sack but a safety too? Made my day.
"This week is the trip to London. Luckily I've never had problems sleeping on planes. When an assignment comes you play where they tell you to. What we need to do is to believe mentally that we are playing at Soldier Field. I've heard there are quite a few Bears fans in London, which is crazy when you think about it. But if that is the case, it will make that whole process easier.
"It's an important game for us so we'll do whatever it takes to come out strong. We're all adults and we can figure out individually how to prepare for it. Jet lag, no jet lag, we'll be OK."
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 12 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.