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Bears are the team we thought they were, and that isn't good

The sad, simple truth is that the Bears are a terrible football team.

Potential? Sure, they have that.

An ability to stay in games to the end? Yep.

A big-time quarterback playing pretty well? Check.

But a very bad NFL team all the same? Absolutely.

The Bears have a real NFL coach at the top in wily veteran John Fox. Receiver Alshon Jeffery is back from injury and making highlight-reel catches, and the offensive line, though patched up, is OK. The defense plays well for stretches, then . . . never mind.

But after all the scorn heaped on coach Marc Trestman last season, folks ought to remember this: The Bears have a worse record now

(2-5) than they did after seven games last season (3-4).

It’s depressing, to say the least. It shouldn’t be this way.

And you could see something near the end of the Bears’ 23-20

loss Sunday to the Vikings at Soldier Field that told you volumes. Great teams — even good or average teams — don’t give up a seven-point lead in less than five minutes and lose.

It was one thing to allow the Vikings to tie the score at 20 — overtime was the default position if the Bears couldn’t score — but it was another to keep the ball for only 49 seconds before handing it back to them with a minute left.

Those 49 seconds were rife with failure. From coaching to play-calling to execution to understanding what is needed to win, the Bears were missing it all.

Of course, it wasn’t just the offense. The defense melted like lard in a microwave, giving up

10 points so fast you barely had time to gag.

Either the Bears aren’t good enough at so many little things that they can’t win or the other team toys with them, knowing it can beat this messed-up group whenever it puts its mind to it.

Here’s a fact: The Bears have to go 6-3 the rest of the way to finish .500. Just to be average. The playoffs are out of the question.

There are, by my calculation, five games on the schedule the Bears conceivably might win — those against the Chargers, 49ers, Buccaneers, Redskins and Lions. And maybe the Rams. I don’t know how they could beat the Packers, Broncos or these same Vikings.

But the odds of them going 5-11 or 6-10 now seem pretty solid. And, in fairness, isn’t that where most of us predicted they’d finish before the season?

The pity is that much-reviled quarterback Jay Cutler is throwing well, not turning over the ball, managing games nicely. His touchdown run, in which he went for the big collision rather than skipping daintily to the outside, fired up not only his teammates but the crowd.

For naught.

‘‘We work really hard to win,’’ Fox said, no doubt meaning it. ‘‘Really, at the end of the day, whether we win or lose by three or 33, it counts the same. We are what we are.’’

That last sentence recalls former Cardinals coach Dennis Green’s famous and hilarious ‘‘They are who we thought they were’’ line. It also tips the cap to the trendy ‘‘It is what it is’’ jock answer to any question.

Thing is, if the Bears are what they are, they stink. That’s that. They’re good enough to hang around in games but bad enough not to be able to close them out.

I guess the Bears are who we thought they were. And that thought bubble is even darker

now because they might be without injured running back

Matt Forte and are definitely without hallucinatory (and waived) defensive lineman Jeremiah Ratliff.

They can put up a good fight. They’re a nice opponent. That’s all.

It appears Cutler’s tenure in Chicago — now in its seventh season — will be a mediocre one. The Bears are 51-52 since he arrived in 2009.

Not all the victories and losses are his fault — far from it. But

that big, disturbing sign — ‘‘Rebuilding Here’’ — seems to have been unveiled.

The Bears’ last two coaches, Trestman and Lovie Smith, had better winning percentages with the team than Fox does now.

That’s not good, is it?

Follow me on Twitter @ricktelander.

Email: rtelander@suntimes.com