LAKE FOREST – Bears coach Lovie Smith asked for patience Monday as he spoke about persistent mistakes by his inexperienced quarterback, Caleb Hanie.
“He, like the rest of our team, didn’t play well [Sunday],” Smith said a day after his team lost, 10-3, to the Kansas City Chiefs. “But give us a little bit of time.”
A little bit of time is all the Bears have to reverse their fortunes.
The Bears (7-5) likely will need to win three out of their final four games to make the playoffs, and at least some of that success will have to happen without their two best players on offense. Franchise quarterback Jay Cutler remains sidelined indefinitely because of a broken right thumb, and star running back Matt Forte could miss the next two to four weeks because of a sprained MCL in his right knee.
Smith said he expected Forte to return before the end of the regular season.
“Can’t tell you exactly when,” Smith said. “But hopefully, we get him back soon.”
In the meantime, the Bears will turn to second- and third-string running backs Marion Barber and Kahlil Bell to fill the void left by Forte. The pair combined for 18 carries for 82 yards against the Chiefs, but neither player caught a pass out of the backfield.
Forte’s receiving skills could be missed more than his rushing ability. He leads the Bears with 52 receptions this season and offered a reliable safety valve in the passing game.
Barber (5-foot-11, 218 pounds) has 40 receptions in his past 37 games.
“He’s a different running back than Matt Forte,” Smith said. “We won’t shift him out an awful lot during the course of a game. He’s not that type of player. He’s more a [between]-the-tackles type of runner. Kahlil can probably do more of the things that Matt Forte can do.”
None of that will matter much if Hanie continues to pile up interceptions and incompletions. The Colorado State alum has recorded a 40.8 passer rating in his two NFL starts, which is less than half of the 85.7 passer rating that Cutler posted in the first 10 games of the season.
Hanie struggled badly with accuracy against the Chiefs, missing several open receivers including Earl Bennett for a possible touchdown in the first half.
Smith said the Bears would not overhaul their game plan in Hanie’s next start.
“Just like if you put in a new offensive lineman, a new running back, new wide receiver, you adapt some,” Smith said. “But it’s not like you’re going to throw out what we do [and] change our philosophy completely. We’re not going to do that.
“Caleb can run our offense. We had opportunities [Sunday]. We need to hit a couple of routes. But we had our chances.”
As for the possibility of signing a veteran quarterback such as Donovan McNabb?
No chance, Smith said.
“That’s our group,” Smith said of Hanie, rookie Nathan Enderle and recent acquisition Josh McCown. “We’re going to make improvements with our group, like all positions.
“We’re not looking on the outside. We’re not having a quarterback tryout or anything like that. These are our guys, and they’re all going to get better.”