CHICAGO | If Mike Neal were in his 10th NFL season with all the nagging injuries he's had, you'd agree it was the price athletes pay in this punishing sport.
But this is only the Merrillville grad's third season, all with the Packers, and he had appeared in just 17 of the team's 50 games heading into Sunday's divisional showdown with the Bears.
That all changed, finally, as Neal saw his first game action ever at Soldier Field instead of watching from the sideline in sweats as he did for past visits.
"I'm thankful I'm still able to play the game and play in my backyard," he said after contributing 1.5 sacks and a tackle for loss in the Packers' 21-13 win. "I enjoyed it."
Neal's third-quarter sack of Jay Cutler was punctuated by jumping up and down while tapping his heart and pointing to family members seated in the south end zone.
"I just wanted them to know I was out there," Neal said. "I hadn't played too much but I did a good job when I did play. My first two years were complete hell for me, but it's looking up now.
"That means a lot to me."
The 6-foot-3, 296-pound defensive end, a powerful inside pass rusher, missed the first four regular-season games while serving a suspension for violation of the league's performance-enhancing drug policy.
It was reported Neal had used Adderall for an attention deficit disorder.
He appeared in the next eight games, had eight tackles and two sacks, then suffered a shoulder injury against Minnesota and missed the Detroit game in Week 14.
He's had his moments prior to Sunday, sacking the Colts' Andrew Luck (-9), the Cardinals' John Skelton (-10) and pressuring the Vikings' Christian Ponder into throwing an end zone interception.
Neal's previous injuries included abdominal, shoulder and knee. He missed all but two games of his 2010 rookie season and was a spectator as the Packers won Super Bowl XLV.
Did he send a message Sunday to the doubters?
"If I have to send a message to anybody that's counting me out, (it's) I really don't care for 'em," said Neal, the 56th player taken overall in the 2010 draft. "They don't make a difference in what I do. My family, my church, I appreciate them for their ongoing support."
This was a guy who had starred on and off the field at Purdue, where he was a legend in the weight room, bench-pressing 510 pounds and squatting 615.
Neal appeared in 46 games with the Boilermakers, starting 23 over his last two seasons.
"I'm not cursed. I'm just playing football. Everybody gets hurt at a certain time in their career," he said. "Mine just happen to be early.
"I can live with that."