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For Bears and Fox, opener against Packers wasn't half bad

John Fox made his debut as Bears coach Sunday, and it went better than expected.

The Bears led the Packers at halftime. If a Bears spokesman had taken the opportunity to announce to the Soldier Field crowd that, regretfully, the season was over, the only question would have been what route the parade was going to take.

The Bears looked like a professional football team Sunday, no small thing after last season’s debacle, though they still walked away 31-23 losers. There are no moral victories in the NFL, but there are losses that don’t stink to high heaven. This was one of them.

It will be a long year, but maybe it won’t be the kidney stone many of us thought it would be.

John Fox made his debut as Bears coach, and it was clear from the start Sunday what his approach will be: Limit the number of opponents’ drives, try to keep the score close and who knows what can happen? It worked for a half. The Packers had just three drives in the first two quarters (not counting the knee they took to end the half), Matt Forte had 105 of his 141 rushing yards and the Bears led 13-10.

Can this actually work for a talent-poor team? Only if the Bears play a perfect game. They did not Sunday.

The plan seems to be to run Forte until he either sets an NFL rushing record or has to live out the rest of his years as a giant bruise. The plan seems to carry a condition: Don’t even think of running him near the goal line, with the game still very much in doubt.

Share Events on The CubeThe Bears gave up on Forte when it mattered most. It was if Marc Trestman had intercepted the radio signal and started calling plays. Trailing 24-16 in the fourth quarter, they attempted three pass plays from the 2-yard line, including one to Eddie Royal on fourth down that fell incomplete. Given that they had run Forte twice on third-and-3 and picked up first downs earlier in the game, the decision to pass was a head-scratcher. True, Forte is generally not exceptional in short-yardage situations. But he had been good at it Sunday.

Asked whether running the ball might have been a better option on at least one of the goal-line plays, Fox said, “Hindsight is always 20-20.’’

Listen, foresight was screaming, “run the ball!’’ And when the Bears weren’t lining up for a field goal on fourth down, foresight was being given CPR.

Any good chance they had of winning the game ended on their next series, when Packers linebacker Clay Matthews stepped in from of a Jay Cutler pass and returned the interception 48 yards.

This loss wasn’t Cutler’s fault, but the idea that a new coaching staff can eradicate all his inherent Jayness is wishful thinking. He can neither manage nor be managed.

“As soon as I let it go, I knew we were in trouble,’’ said Cutler, who should have that line memorized by now.

The Packers seemed intent on, if not giving the Bears the game, then at least keeping them close. They had 10 penalties and looked uncharacteristically sloppy. But they also had Aaron Rodgers. When something needs to be done, he does it. It’s as simple as that. The Bears have had the hardest time finding someone like that.

It can’t be overstated that they were in Sunday’s game, which is a lot more than most people believed. Vic Fangio’s defense kept the Bears close enough, which nobody believed it could do. Green Bay didn’t have to punt in one of the meetings between the two teams last season, so, no, the bar for the Bears’ defense isn’t what one would call “high” this season. The Packers still managed to score on five of their seven possessions. So why didn’t it feel so bad?

Because last year felt so dreadful.

The Bears scored with 34 seconds left to cut the Packers’ lead to eight. Forte saw progress in that.

“Nobody had the stupid look on their face like before when something would happen and they’re like kind of saying that the game is lost already when there’s time left,’’ he said. “I’m glad we didn’t have that, and we came out and kept fighting.’’

Fox said his team would be able to build on many of the positives from this game, but there was no room for misinterpretation in his raspy voice.

“You’re only in this game to win,’’ he said. “There’s no consolation prize.’’

I don’t know. For a team supposedly in rebuild mode, a halftime advantage over Green Bay seems like a major award.