CHICAGO – The faith in Caleb Hanie has evaporated, along with any semblance of belief that the Bears can pull off any more wins without Jay Cutler at quarterback.
It’s a shame that the Bears (7-5) have allowed one key injury to torpedo their season. Their 10-3 loss at Soldier Field on Sunday with Hanie (11 for 24, three interceptions) under center makes it two winnable games in a row that they’ve dropped.
Bears general manager Jerry Angelo’s inability for two years to find a competent backup for Cutler is as much to blame for the team’s failing as the incompetence of Hanie himself.
The Bears now have had two consecutive promising seasons seemingly derailed by an injury to their franchise quarterback.
Last year the backup was Todd Collins, who threw four interceptions in his only start against Carolina, then was so bad that the Bears had to give him the hook when he replaced Cutler in the NFC Championship Game.
This year, it’s Hanie instead of Collins, but it’s the same story. The backup is unable to execute the offense. The Bears were 0 for 11 on third down Sunday. Hanie was looking, looking, looking ... aaand sacked seven times.
No one’s expecting the Bears to light up the scoreboard with a backup under center, but they ought to be able to do better than the paltry 181 yards of offense and 0 for 11 third-down performance they posted at home against a mediocre defense.
If you go to a play and the person playing the lead can’t go that night, do you expect the performance to be garbage because the understudy is taking the stage? No. If that were the case, you’d demand a refund.
Why should it be OK for the Bears, then?
It’s impossible to hide in the NFL if you don’t have a capable quarterback. Yet, the Bears keep leaving their fate to Cutler and hoping he stays healthy.
No matter what coach Lovie Smith says about one win making the Bears feel better, the growing sense of doom beginning to settle over this team is difficult to deny.
After the game, Hanie was non-committal when asked if he took a step backward.
“I’ll have to evaluate that on tape, going back and looking at things,” Hanie said.
Hanie is one of the only people in Chicago or Kansas City who wants to relive this game. He has about as much business starting an NFL game as the Chiefs’ Tyler Palko (17 for 30, 157 yards, touchdown pass), which is to say, not much.
Hanie’s passes often were inaccurate. When Hanie was on the money in the fourth quarter, wide receiver Roy Williams couldn’t make an easy catch that should have been a game-tying touchdown, and instead became a back-breaking interception.
If Williams can’t make that catch, the Bears don’t need him back. If they couldn’t beat the Chiefs (5-7) at home with Hanie as their quarterback, the Bears don’t need him back, either.
Maybe they can catch a ride out of town with offensive coordinator Mike Martz, whose head-scratching play calls continued.
You’ve got a solid running back and a quarterback whose passes could end up anywhere, and you choose to throw on fourth-and-2? Of course it’s not going to work.
In another troubling development, running back Matt Forte left the game in the first quarter because of a sprained knee. But the running game wasn’t the problem. Kahlil Bell (four carries for 34 yards) and Marion Barber (14 for 44) aren’t the players Forte is, but they were adequate.
Hanie missed a wide open Earl Bennett in the second quarter for what would have been a touchdown. He was sacked on back-to-back plays that cost the Bears 16 yards, making what could have been a short field goal try into a 41-yarder that Robbie Gould missed wide left in the third quarter. He just made bad throws all day long, with the exception of a couple of drives.
“If we make those necessary changes, adjustments, improvements that we have to make, we’ll be in good shape,” Smith said. “One win away from feeling a lot better.”
Unfortunately for the Bears, the change they need to happen most – healing Cutler’s right hand – can’t happen in time for next week’s game in Denver.
• Eric Olson is the Northwest Herald’s sports editor. Reach him at 815-526-4554, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter @NWH_EricOlson.