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Forget the 2nd pick: Winning with youth matters today for Bears

Bears RB Jordan Howard celebrates one of his three touchdowns vs. the 49ers. (Getty)

The Bears are better than having to make second overall pick in the 2017 draft. And they might be better than having to make the third and fourth overall selections, too.

That might irk a discouraged fan base, but let the Bears’ 26-6 win over the 49ers be another reminder that players and coaches don’t care about the draft. They want to win, and they’re going to try for more over the final four weeks.

“It’s been an extremely tough year,” cornerback Tracy Porter said. “Don’t get me wrong, we’re extremely excited about coming out with a victory.

“[But] we don’t want to just have one win, two losses or one win, one loss, one win, one loss. We want to keep the victories going consistently.”

The Bears and 49ers played with the No. 2 overall pick at stake. The winner would be the loser because that team would fall in the draft order.

But winning is more important. Having the second overall pick only is a boon for a team if it picks the right player.

For every Marcus Mariota, Von Miller or Ndamukong Suh, there is a Greg Robinson, Luke Joeckel or Robert Griffin III. And those are only in recent drafts.

Remember quarterback Ryan Leaf? He was the second overall pick in 1998 behind Peyton Manning. Leaf was considered a sure thing but he quickly snowballed into one of the biggest busts of all time.

Teams miss on players as often as they hit on them, and that applies for every high pick. What matters is getting those evaluations correct, not where you’re slotted to pick.

When it comes to the Bears’ current evaluators, Sunday offered several glimpses of hope:

** Matt Barkley, a quarterback general manager Ryan Pace has liked since his draft year, built off his solid finish against the Titans last week. Barkley had no issues with snow, completing 11 of 18 passes for 192 yards. Receiver Josh Bellamy also dropped a potential 61-yard touchdown.

** Running back Jordan Howard, the Bears’ fifth-round pick last spring, powered his way to three touchdowns and 117 yards on a season-high 32 carries. His big day also came behind rookie center Cody Whitehair and reserve guards Eric Kush and Ted Larsen, all three of whom are Pace acquisitions.

** On defense, it was the same story: Three Pace acquisitions dominated. Defensive end Akiem Hicks had two sacks, two tackles for loss, two quarterback hits, a forced fumble, defensive tackle Eddie Goldman had a sack, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd had two sacks, a tackle for loss and a quarterback hit.

The Bears weren’t getting carried away with a victory against the woeful 49ers, though.

“It’s great, but [expletive],” outside linebacker Pernell McPhee said. “Teams like that, we’re supposed to beat them. It ain’t no secret. We’re supposed to win that game. And we went out there and won.”

It didn’t always look that way. The Bears fell behind 6-0 in the first half. But as the game went on and the snow and cold became factors, it was the Bears who fought on; the 49ers seemed to quit. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick was benched.

“The way the guys responded today was a winning mentality,” outside linebacker Willie Young said.

That mindset is crucial; high draft picks be damned.

Significantly better opponents — the Lions, Redskins, Packers and Vikings — await the Bears in the final four weeks. But it still was a meaningful win for a team that desperately needed one and was counting on an abundance of first- and second-year players to deliver it.

“It does feel good,” coach John Fox said. “Hats off to those guys in the locker room. A lot of the young guys had to answer the bell, and they’ve done an outstanding job.”