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It’s still early, but are the Bears ready to press the panic button?

Bears coach Lovie Smith remains confident thBears can get back track after starting seas1-2.  | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

Bears coach Lovie Smith remains confident that the Bears can get back on track after starting the season 1-2. | Matthew Grotto~Sun-Times Media

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Updated: September 26, 2011 5:54PM

In his eighth season as the Bears’ head coach, Lovie Smith knows the drill. Not only did he predictably avoid any hint of panic after the Bears’ 27-17 loss to the Packers on Sunday at Soldier Field, but he spent almost as much effort in his post-game new conference talking us off the ledge.

‘’We’ll clean those things up.”

“Third game of the season.”

“We’re not there yet.”

“There’s a lot of football left to go in the season.”

“Give us time.”

You can’t blame Lovie for seeing it that way. But you don’t have to watch the film to get the idea that Sunday’s game said much more about the Bears than, as Smith put it, “They were better than us today.”

The Packers’ victory was yet another sign that this isn’t 2010, when the Bears had so many things going their way. A year ago, the Bears won a similar game against the Packers. But that time the punt return for a touchdown wasn’t called back by a penalty. The Packers weren’t called for 18 penalties. The Bears didn’t get the takeaway at the right time.

Last year the Packers were the better team and lost. This time they were the better team and won.

‘’There’s a reason we didn’t play well,’’ said linebacker Brian Urlacher, who had seven tackles, an interception, a tackle-for-loss and a pass breakup. ‘’They made us look the way we did today. It’s just the way it goes.’’

Though the game was close, it wasn’t difficult to see that the gap between the Bears and the Packers is closer to widening than closing. The Packers have Aaron Rodgers. The Bears don’t. The Bears can’t cover Greg Jennings or Jermichael Finley and they can’t block Clay Matthews with fewer than three players.

When the Packers lost right tackle Bryan Bulaga to a knee injury in the first quarter, they replaced him with Marshall Newhouse, a fifth-round draft pick in 2010 with a grand total of zero NFL snaps on offense. The Packers gained 295 yards (5.0 per play) and scored 20 points after Bulaga went out.

When the Bears lost Gabe Carimi to a knee injury at the end of the first half against the Saints last week, they replaced him with veteran Frank Omiyale and gained 98 yards (3.0 per play) and scored three points after Carimi left the game.

Injuries to Carimi, Chris Harris, Earl Bennett, Major Wright and Marion Barber already are more costly than any injury problem last year. Jay Cutler is on pace to get in sync with his receivers just about the time the weather gets bad.

After three games, the NFL’s new kickoff rule already is having an impact on the Bears’ return game. They’ve resorted to trickery to make an impact and already wasted what is likely the most ingenious trick Dave Toub has in his bag when Johnny Knox’s 89-yard punt return, aided by Devin Hester fooling Packers into thinking the ball was coming him, was nullified by a penalty on special teams ace Corey Graham.

That right there should tell you the Bears have bigger problems than finding a way to beat the Packers. Not that it can’t be done -- an improved offensive line can go a long way and remaining schedule appears much more playable. But it’s pretty clear the challenge for Lovie Smith and his staff will be trying to fix one problem without another one cropping up.

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