It’s the kind of moment a third-string quarterback dreams of, and Caleb Hanie came up just short.
Forced into the game by Jay Cutler’s injury and Todd Collins’ ineptitude, Hanie led the Bears to two touchdown drives, threw an interception for a touchdown and drove the Bears to the Green Bay 27 before throwing a game-ending interception with 47 seconds left.
Not bad for just over a quarter of play.
‘‘Felt real good about what Caleb was able to do,’’ coach Lovie Smith said. ‘‘As the third quarterback, you don’t get a lot of reps, but he stayed in the game mentally and really felt like he belonged there. We had an opportunity there at the end of the game, and that was down to Caleb leading us. So you can’t complain about his play at all.’’
Well, maybe one complaint: Why wasn’t he the next man up when Cutler went down with a left knee injury?
‘‘We thought that Todd should be the next one up, ready to go,’’ Smith said.
That feeling lasted all of two three-and-out series, leaving Bears fans to wonder what might have been and why the depth chart was stacked the way it was stacked.
‘‘They just liked the way Todd was doing things at that time and felt comfortable with him,’’ Hanie said of a bye-week demotion after he was promoted after Collins’ first and only start in place of Cutler.
Hanie was the lone backup to Cutler last season, but with Mike Martz teaching his system to Cutler, he wanted someone else who knew it in reserve. The fear was that Hanie wasn’t going to get enough practice repetitions.
Hanie suffered a shoulder injury in the preseason opener at San Diego, and that did a couple of things to the backup-quarterback picture. It fueled a deal for Collins, 38, a 16-year veteran signed to a one-year deal for more than $1 million in late August, the week after Hanie was hurt. Collins had declined to take a veteran minimum deal with no guarantee a week earlier.
It also led to the demise of sixth-round pick Dan LeFevour, who was pressed into action for much of the preseason and didn’t have much of a chance. He was cut and spent the season with the Bengals.
Collins was moved ahead of Hanie and produced a passer rating of 8.1 in relief after Cutler was knocked out on the road against the New York Giants, and he started the following week, producing a passer rating of 6.2. He threw five interceptions and no touchdowns in those games, leading to a demotion to the No. 3 spot. But he was somehow promoted during the bye week, leading to talk that Martz just didn’t like Hanie. Does Martz like him?
‘‘Yeah, I hope so,’’ Hanie said with a laugh. ‘‘I like him. That is for him to answer, but I think he likes me.’’
Hanie, no doubt, earned a lot of fans Sunday with a brave performance in a tough situation.
The big questions about him now are: Why was he ever behind Collns to begin with and what might have been if he had gotten into the game earlier? Did the Bears give away two possessions because of bad coaching decisions?
‘‘I’d like to think that I don’t need that type of motivation, but when you get demoted, you always have a little extra fire in you to come back and show that they made the wrong decision,’’ Hanie said.