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Trying to categorize Bears a futile exercise  

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

For those of us who have grappled with the true meaning of this Bears season, Sunday didn’t help.

A few weeks ago, we had been absolutely certain, sort of, that the Bears had finally proved their worth with a victory over the Eagles. Remember how certain we were? The glowing praise! The flowery language!

That five-game winning streak? It would have been foolish to say it wasn’t the mark of a good team.

But then the New England dis-aster arrived, and all those doubts rushed in like Black Friday shoppers. Sunday revealed that the Patriots are really good — not that it needed revealing — and that the Bears are in a completely different category.

What is that category?

◆ Prominent Mid-Major Programs?

◆ Teams Most Likely to Lose Their First Playoff Games?

◆ Franchises Vulnerable to the Occasional Bad Day at the Office?

The Bears are pushing Door No. 3 very hard, but it’s difficult to look at the first two choices and not nod your head after a loss like Sunday’s.

For the second game in a row, the Bears broke down defensively before halftime. That’s a matter of players falling asleep. That’s bad coaching.

Then there’s the undeniable truth that the Patriots are more talented. Their defense was superb Sunday. Their offensive line stifled the Bears’ pass rush. Tom Brady had so much time to throw, he took up knitting and finished a sweater.

No one quite like Brady

The Bears don’t have a leader like Brady, or if they do, he didn’t do a very good job Sunday. The Patriots’ quarterback makes teammates want to do well for him. They want to make him happy. They don’t want to let him down.

I watched an enthusiastic Brady huddle, helmet to helmet to helmet, with two rookie tight ends before the game. I don’t know what was said, but it was clear they were in their own fired-up world. A plow drove past and sprayed them with snow, but if they noticed, they didn’t let on.

Can you imagine what it means to young players for a future Hall of Famer to take the time to pump them up?

On the flip side, we have Bears coach Lovie Smith, who talked to his players Saturday about the Medal of Honor winner whom the team was going to recognize the next day. One player said that Smith talked about the importance of going into battle and laying it on the line for your teammates, the way the soldier did for his fellow Army mates.

Even if it’s done in the privacy of a meeting room, trying to equate football with war is wrong. Coaches have been doing it forever, but aren’t we beyond that, especially when men are dying in combat?

One of the reasons Bears players like Smith so much is that they enjoy the easy life they’re leading. He makes few demands, and as long as they remain productive and loyal, that easy life of little criticism or accountability will continue.

But whom would you run through a wall for — Smith or Brady? I’ll go with the guy who leads by example and enthusiasm, not the guy suddenly and uncharacteristically trying to channel Patton.

Different description each week

A lack of leadership was only one element that stood out Sunday. There was such a yawning discrepancy between the two teams that it would take three columns to list them all.

It’s why some of us are back to square one with these Bears. We’re back to having no earthly idea what this team is. That might seem like an overreaction to a 36-7 blowout in a snowstorm. But you have to understand where we have been and how far we’ve come. We worked hard to overcome our skepticism. We struggled to move past our doubts. We tried.

And then .  .  . Sunday.

We thought we knew the Bears when they barely beat the Lions in the opener. We thought they were lucky.

We thought we knew the Bears when they beat Green Bay in Week 3. We thought they were, if not good, then good enough.

We thought we knew the Bears when they lost back-to-back games to the Seahawks and Redskins. We thought they were exposed as frauds.

We thought we knew the Bears when they beat the Eagles. We thought they were a good team.

We thought we knew the Bears when they found a way to beat Detroit last week — something the Packers weren’t able to do Sunday. We thought they were opportunistic, like all good teams are.

But after watching the Patriots embarrass them on Sunday, some of us are back to wrestling with our faith. In one half of football, we went from believers to agnostics.

That the better team won is obvious. If the Bears played New England 10 times, they might not win a game.

We’d all be better off if we stopped making grand pronouncements about this team. The Bears are not great. They’re not awful.

They’re fine.

They’re going to win their division. That’s a nice season. And that’s about it.

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