Dan McGrath: Chicago Fans in Wonderland

That Bears team that absorbed an from the Detroit Lions on Monday has as much chance of making the N.F.L. playoffs as

What?

O.K., as much chance as the as their general manager.

Wait, that’s also happening? Sure, and Ron Zook’s well-schooled .

It is?

I’m thinking I should have passed on that last round when some old buddies were in town the other night. Chicago sports can be confusing in the best of times. But none of this makes any sense.

What was particularly unsettling about the Bears’ loss was how bad they looked with Jay Cutler playing very well. Cutler, the whipping-boy quarterback, put up credible numbers against a pass rush out to decapitate him, at times neutralizing it by being resourceful, nimble and tough.

Imagine how good he’d be behind an offensive line that can protect him; understanding the snap count would be a start. Or with a go-to receiver whose size and speed suggest something more than a Volkswagen Beetle.

Cutler and Matt Forte aside, the Bears looked as clueless and inept as they routinely did in the pre-Payton ’70s; remember Kent Nix? The coaching staff bears some of the responsibility.

Lovie Smith and his crew had to know the Lions’ 4-0 start and first Monday night appearance in a decade would have the Ford Field crowd amped up and frat-party boisterous. The Bears responded with nine false-start penalties. How’s that for preparation?

Putting points on the board — even 3 points — is one way of quieting a rambunctious crowd. The Bears had a chance to score first late in the first quarter, but they disdained a 43-yard field goal attempt and went for the first down on fourth-and-one. They got smothered, but not before burning their final timeout of the half. And instead of calming down, the crowd got charged up enough for a virtual storming of the field, crazed vigilantes with lanterns and pitchforks and plenty of beer. Good luck, Jay.

Here’s a sobering thought: The Lovie Smith Bears have always been a defense-oriented team that prides itself on a tenacious refusal to surrender a big play. The Lions gashed that defense for 73- and 88-yard touchdowns. One week earlier, Carolina rolled up 543 yards behind a rookie quarterback, Cam Newton. The week before that, Aaron Rodgers could have sampled the United Club’s lunch buffet while waiting for his receivers to break free on a 297-yard, three-touchdown afternoon. Matt Ryan and Drew Brees combined for 589 passing yards in Weeks 1 and 2.

If the Bears are not a good defensive team, they’re not a good team, period. Too flawed to make the playoffs? Maybe not.

They’re not in the Packers’ class, obviously. Or New Orleans’, and probably not the Lions’. But who else in the N.F.C. is really scary? San Francisco is 4-1 on the manic energy of first-year coach Jim Harbaugh — let’s see if that survives a season. Philadelphia’s “Dream Team” splurge looks like the worst expenditure of free-agent money since the White Sox fell for Adam Dunn. Atlanta? Scuffling; already lost to the Bears. Tampa Bay? The Bucs just took a 41-3 whomping from the 49ers. The Cowboys, Redskins and Giants? Throw a blanket over them — they’re the same team.

With winnable games against the Vikings and Bucs up next, the Bears could get to 4-3 at their bye week. Then it’s back to teasing us — sort of like the Cubs’ pursuit of Theo Epstein, but with less satisfying results.

Yes, Epstein, the boy-wonder general manager, delivered two World Series titles in four years to a Boston franchise that had been 86 years without one, but if those salary figures being tossed around are accurate, you’d think Epstein had invented baseball.

He didn’t, but he’s widely credited with perfecting the “Moneyball” version, combining ample resources and numbers-driven smarts. That’s the brand the Tom Ricketts Cubs intend to play, and thus the attraction.

Turns out it was mutual. The Red Sox have become the New England Yankees; every year they don’t win is deemed a failure, with this year’s 7-20 collapse just unacceptable. Expectations like that wear on a man. The Cubs, by comparison, are a softball team at the company picnic.

The dreamiest chatter depicts Epstein as the closer on a Wrigley Field ballpark deal, as if he’d been out there in hardhat and boots overseeing the much-admired Fenway renovations. Not really — Epstein is a baseball guy, and a good one, though hardly perfect. The Red Sox are two years without a playoff berth, and they’d probably take Al Soriano’s contract for John Lackey’s equally bad one, or Carl Crawford’s.

What the Cubs want from Epstein is the eye for talent and developmental know-how that brought Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury and other homegrown prospects to Boston. That sort of package doesn’t arrive via overnight mail. The Cubs have some work to do before they’re any good, even if Epstein shows up with a couple of starting pitchers and an outfield bat with some pop in tow.

Terry Francona? Ryne Sandberg? Interesting either way. The question then is who gets the lake named after him if the Cubs finally win.

dmcgrath@chicagonewscoop.org

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