Reality Finally Caught Up to the Bears. Now, Moving On.

The Bears have been an all-encompassing topic for the last few weeks, overshadowing the Bulls and the Blackhawks and a Convention in which Ryan Theriot’s chirping about his newfound love for the passed as news. More on all that later.

Let’s be charitable and concede that signing Collins isn’t a fireable offense for whoever recommended it. But anyone who proposes bringing the 38-year-old statue back should be assigned to the Halas Hall landscape detail, working under Michael McCaskey, the Bears chairman emeritus/shrubbery czar, and forced to listen to his theories of football.

No, it probably wouldn’t have mattered if Hanie had been tapped immediately after beleaguered Jay Cutler left with his knee knocked loose, but playing Collins for two series pretty much cost the Bears the third quarter. Their defense had decided enough was enough and had started to play better, and the offense got a lift from Hanie’s energetic improvisations.

Hanie also threw a crushing interception to a defensive tackle, and his touchdown pass maybe doesn’t happen if or Nick Collins had bothered to tackle Earl Bennett.

But the kid had a Clint Longley-like moment on a mighty big stage, so let him enjoy it.

And besides, the Bears were never in any danger of winning that game. The Packers were better. Though they lost six starters and nine other players to injured reserve this season, the Packers might be the better team for a while given how young they are — eight rookies were on Sunday’s 53-man roster.

In a league devoid of truly great teams, the Bears have nothing to apologize for after winning 12 games and a division title and playing for the N.F.C. championship. Lovie Smith acknowledged as much in Monday’s season wrap-up, a bit smugly, it seemed — the performance will probably earn Smith a contract extension just five months after his employment prospects seemed less promising than Blago’s.

But not apologizing isn’t the same as, say, celebrating a truly good year.

All season long the Bears invited suspicion that they weren’t quite what they seemed. They were remarkably lucky, beginning with the ’ game-winning-touchdown-that-wasn’t in the season opener. They faced and managed to beat a succession of overmatched backup quarterbacks, as well as a first-game playoff opponent with a losing record and no business being in the playoffs.

Their good fortune was exceeded only by their good health — linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer was the only player on injured reserve as his concussion symptoms persisted. Hillenmeyer is a smart, useful player, but he probably wouldn’t have started anyway with Brian Urlacher and Pisa Tinoisamoa remaining sound.

One player on injured reserve. Has any team ever survived the rigors of an schedule with less damage?

So one playoff victory got the Bears a home date with the Packers for the conference championship. They couldn’t convert, and who knows when they’ll get that close again. The much-maligned offensive line improved some, but it’s a long way from championship caliber. That makes for an iffy running game and dubious protection for Cutler, an enigma at quarterback whose uneven play might be less maddening if he had a trustworthy go-to receiver.

The defense is a surer bet, but it’s aging —Urlacher will be 33 next season, and six of Sunday’s other starters will be 30 or older. Devin Hester remains a scary weapon, but the Bears don’t always maximize his talents, and the Packers showed he can be contained.

Thus it’s risky to salute the 2010 season as the start of something, but at least it held your attention. Now it’s on to other things.

The “M.V.P.” chants grow more frequent and more credible for Derrick Rose, who has the Bulls on the way to their best season since MJ closed the show after the sixth championship in 1998. Conventional wisdom has them at the top of the second tier of title contenders; we’ll know more if they can ever get Carlos Boozer and Joakim Noah on the floor together. They still need a spot-up shooter.

A return to health got the Blackhawks on a mini-run, but back-to-back thumpings by Philadelphia and Minnesota pretty much negated it. The Hawks made too many roster changes to duplicate last season’s revelry; a playoff berth is an ambitious goal as they hit the All-Star break.

Exercising Ozzie Guillen’s 2012 option was another good move by the , as it eliminates a potential distraction for a team that is built to win now. Ozzie should reciprocate by canceling son Oney’s account, and peace will reign on the South Side, along with winning baseball.

A Cubs insider believes and Matt Garza “make us marginally better,” and ’s return has sparked a level of excitement that’s a little out of kilter for a set-up man. I’m seeing fifth place, but what do I know — I picked the Bears.

Anyway, pitchers and catchers report in 16 days. That is always a good thing.

dmcgrath@chicagonewscoop.org

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