Seldom-used Caleb Hanie will be forced into action for the Bears, now that Jay Cutler is sidelined with a broken thumb.
Do you think the Bears can make the playoffs with Caleb Hanie?
Updated: November 22, 2011 9:51AM
Jay Cutler’s broken thumb isn’t the end of the Bears’ season.
While the bad news is that Caleb Hanie is no Jay Cutler. The good news is that, in the short term anyway, that might not necessarily be bad news. Cutler has the higher ceiling, he also has the lower floor.
If we’ve learned anything about Cutler since he arrived in Chicago, it’s that he’s as quirky and finicky as he is talented. He’s tougher than some people think. But he’s also easily annoyed, easily distracted, and pretty particular about the dynamic that creates his comfort zones. His security blanket with the Bears is Earl Bennett, his former college teammate whom he hadn’t thrown a ball to in four years when Cutler came here in 2009.
While Hanie can’t make some of the thread-the-needle, on-the-run throws that Cutler can — at least we don’t think he can — it’s unlikely he’ll need three months to get in a groove with Roy Williams. Cutler is a better teammate than he gets credit for, but can’t hide his annoyance when things go wrong. Every Williams “drop” seemed to set back their quarterback-receiver relationship at least a week.
Hanie won’t take it personally if Williams drops a catchable ball. And he won’t be so tethered to Earl Bennett that it takes him three weeks to get Williams and Knox involved in the offense.
The timing of Cutler’s injury is particularly unfortunate because he finally seemed to get in a rhythm with Williams in Sunday’s victory over the Chargers. Even after Williams dropped a catchable deep ball on a third-and-11 play in the first quarter, Cutler went right back to him with his next pass on the Bears’ next possession. And then there were the three consecutive first-down passes to Williams in the third quarter that set up a 42-yard pass to Knox that led to Cutler’s one-yard sneak for a 24-17 lead.
‘‘He’s starting to come along,’’ Cutler said of Williams. ‘‘You can see he has his burst back. He’s running well. He’s got a good fit for what we’re trying to do and whenever we put him in a position to make plays, he’s making them.’’
That Williams finally has caught up to Cutler is indicative of another factor in Hanie’s favor: He’s not taking over an offense in training wheels like Cutler did. It’s not like Cutler has carried this offense on his shoulders. On the contrary, it’s more like he had to wait for the rest of the offense to catch up. You’d rather have Cutler driving this car than Hanie, but it’s not like Cutler built it. Cutler ultimately can take it to 120. But my guess is that Hanie will take it from 0-60 faster.
And right now, 60 should be good enough to get the Bears into the playoffs. Five of the six teams Hanie will face to finish the regular season are ranked in the bottom half of the NFL in total defense: the Raiders (24th), Chiefs (23rd), Broncos (17th), Packers (30th) and Vikings (20th). The Seahawks are 11th, but the Bears play Seattle at home on Dec. 18, and their defense should be able to handle that by itself — the Seahawks’ offense is ranked 28th in yards, 26th in points.
So put Caleb Hanie down for 4-2 as the Bears’ starting quarterback in the final six games, which would make them 11-5 overall. All things considered, that’s not an unrealistic expectation. And now, CLICK HERE for 10 more observations on the Bears: