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Back-to-back losses diminish Bears’ 3-0 start

Updated: November 8, 2013 6:23AM

If the question is, ‘‘What ails the Bears?’’ the answer would have to be a question, too: Where does it hurt?

Receivers dropped passes Sunday, so there are painful hand issues, if not eye problems. Dumb penalties point to serious brain cramping. Hurt feelings might require treatment for sensitive skin.

A real, live knee injury suggested it wasn’t the Bears’ day, but that would imply they could’ve beaten New Orleans with a little luck. If you watched the way they played in a 26-18 loss, you know that wasn’t at all the case.

For the second consecutive game, the Bears looked awful early, came back late to make the score look respectable and lost. They have turned a 3-0 record into a 3-2 record. They have lost to two good opponents, but this one had the distinct feeling of a team coming back down to earth.

“I think our guys played hard throughout, though, and it’s something we can hang our hat on,’’ coach Marc Trestman said.

That’s the second time in two games he has praised his team’s effort after it got behind. But getting off to faster starts beats character-building exercises any day. Trestman sounded a little like Northwestern’s postgame chest-beating that victorious Ohio State knew it had been in a game Saturday.

Winning is the only thing. You might have heard that somewhere.

Two weeks after the Bears had the town buzzing with three straight victories, now we’re left to wonder whether they were ever for real. That might appear to be hindsight at its worst, but there was a healthy bit of skepticism surrounding this team even during the 3-0 start.

The good news is that the 0-5 Giants come to town for a game Thursday, meaning the Bears have a chance to quickly rid themselves of a bad memory. The bad news is that a lot of what happened against the Saints at Soldier Field is written in permanent marker.

The Bears could get nothing going in the first quarter, with a thin 28 yards of total offense to show for their efforts. The defense played well enough to hold the Saints to two field goals in the quarter, but the die was cast. The defense was on the field too long, and Saints quarterback Drew Brees would make the Bears pay because he’s in the collection business.

Jay Cutler actually finished with better stats than Brees but didn’t get a whole lot of help. He got sacked three times when blitzes went unrecognized and unblocked. He lost a fumble on one of those.

An absence of defensive turnovers is one of the reasons the Bears got behind 23-7 midway through the third quarter.

But mostly it was offensive ineptitude.

“We want to look like the New Orleans Saints on offense,’’ wide receiver Brandon Marshall said. “You can see those guys are machines out there, man. It’s going to take some time to get there, but I think we got the guys in the room to get the job done. There are going to be some growing pains with that.’’

A lot was made of the fact that Marshall caught only four passes for 30 yards. But when teammate Alshon Jeffery catches 10 passes for 218 yards, does it matter how many catches Marshall has? Only if Marshall goes into a diva-receiver’s funk. He didn’t, which apparently counts as a victory.

A bad drop by Earl Bennett on fourth down in the fourth quarter summed up the afternoon for the Bears. So did an offside call on linebacker Lance Briggs when the Saints were going for it on fourth down.

It was a strange, painful day for the Bears. It was bad enough that Stephen Paea had to sit out with turf toe. Another defensive tackle, Nate Collins, left the game with a knee injury. Not surprisingly, the Bears managed very little pressure on Brees, which is like giving the smartest kid in the class extra time on the test.

This game has to leave the Bears a little rattled, not because they were dominated but because they didn’t seem to have the answers when it mattered. Good teams rise to the occasion against good teams.

We’re not witnessing a crisis in confidence. I don’t think the Bears were supremely confident even during their streak. Little in those first three games would have infused strong belief.

Now they’re left to wonder about themselves. Who are they? What are they?

Hurting, for now.


Twitter: @MorrisseyCST

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