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Bears lacking difference-maker at receiver

Steve Smith Panthers showed Bears whNo. 1 receiver can do. He had eight catches for 181 yards. | Getty Images

Steve Smith of the Panthers showed the Bears what a No. 1 receiver can do. He had eight catches for 181 yards. | Getty Images

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Updated: November 16, 2011 9:01AM

The Bears move at a glacial pace when it comes to filling major personnel holes — though with the effects of global warming, even that might be giving them too much credit.

It took a few years to realize the only way they were going to get a ‘‘franchise’’ quarterback was to trade for somebody else’s. And it took even longer to realize their best chance to get a difference-making defensive end was to buy one.

So while they continue to play the Lotto to find an anchor at left tackle, they face an even more daunting challenge at wide receiver. Will they even acknowledge they need a difference-maker, let alone make a bold move to get one?

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the first four weeks of this season are the top four passing weeks in NFL history. It’s pretty clear by now the Bears are going to have to make a big move to keep up. Hoping Jay Cutler can make a No. 1 out of Johnny Knox, Devin Hester or Roy Williams seems like a chronic ‘‘work-in-progress.’’

General manager Jerry Angelo doesn’t have to look too far to see the difference a No. 1 guy can make. Carolina’s Steve Smith burned the Bears with eight receptions for 181 yards on Sunday.

Without Smith, the Panthers might have lost 34-3 instead of 34-29. And Calvin Johnson caught two fourth-quarter touchdown passes as the Lions rallied from a 24-point deficit to beat the Cowboys 34-30.

‘‘We like our guys,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. ‘‘Steve Smith is a great player. Unfortunately, I’ve seen too many of his better games. But we’re not looking to trade any of our players. We like what we have.’’

Let’s just assume that was Smith’s public posture on the issue because he wouldn’t want Knox or Hester to be offended that he thinks Steve Smith — with his 9,414 receiving yards and 54 touchdowns — is better than either of them. Regardless, the solution at wide receiver is, of course, problematic. Even the Lions had to draft Charles Rogers (No. 2 in 2003), Roy Williams (No. 7 in 2004) and Mike Williams (No. 10 in 2005) before striking gold with Johnson in 2007.

Johnson will be an unrestricted free agent in 2013 under his current contract. Larry Fitzgerald will be unrestricted in 2019 — but Cutler would be 36 by then.

Or the Bears could do it the old-fashioned way, by scouting. While Johnson, Fitzgerald and the Texans’ Andre Johnson were top-three picks, the five leaders in receiving yards after Week 4 — the Patriots’ Wes Welker, the Panthers’ Smith, the Steelers’ Mike Wallace, the Chargers’ Vincent Jackson and the Packers’ Greg Jennings — were drafted 52nd or lower, or in the case of the great Welker, not at all.

Pack learns lesson

Packers special-teams coordinator Shawn Slocum must have taken it personally when the Bears snookered his punt-coverage unit last week.

After Charles Woodson returned an interception for a touchdown in the first quarter Sunday, the Packers surprised the Broncos with an onside kick, which Jordy Nelson recovered. Aaron Rodgers scored on an 11-yard run for the Packers’ third touchdown in a 4:50 span for a 21-3 lead. They won 49-23.

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