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Bears’ playoff hopes in Caleb Hanie’s hands

As Bears’ backup quarterback Caleb Hanie (12) has watched Jay Cutler (6) play lot. Hanie has thrown 14 regular-seaspasses four

As the Bears’ backup quarterback, Caleb Hanie (12) has watched Jay Cutler (6) play a lot. Hanie has thrown 14 regular-season passes in four NFL seasons. | Scott Stewart~Sun-Times

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MAN UP

Some might feel comfortable with Caleb Hanie because they saw him spark the Bears in the NFC title game, but he has a very thin resume.

REGULAR SEASON

Year Com-Att Yds TD/INT

’09 3-7 11 0/1

’10 5-7 55 0/0

2011 NFC
TITLE GAME

Com-Att Yds TD/INT

13-20 153 1/2

Updated: December 23, 2011 8:18AM



I don’t think I’ve ever seen Brian Urlacher as relaxed or as talkative as he was Monday morning.

That might seem strange, given that the most important player on the Bears’ ­roster, quarterback Jay ­Cutler, had fractured the thumb on his throwing hand the day before and could be out for the rest of the ­regular season.

But some people love a challenge, and Urlacher sounded like a guy who was ready for one.

It would be helpful to know if Caleb Hanie is ­feeling the same emotions. It would be even more ­helpful to know if he’s an NFL ­quarterback.

No matter what you hear, very few people outside the Bears’ locker room know how good Hanie is. As well as he performed in last season’s NFC Championship Game (13 of 20 passes, 153 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions), it’s part of a very small sample size. In his four-year NFL career, he has thrown 14 regular-season passes.

I heard a lot of true ­believers around town Monday when it came to Hanie, but most reasonable people have to be agnostics on the topic. This isn’t the 49ers knowing they have Steve Young waiting in the wings to replace Joe Montana. It’s why you haven’t heard many odes to Hanie’s ­abilities other than from coach Lovie Smith, who would insist it’s sunny while you’re getting beaten senseless by baseball-sized hail.

“Our football team is not based on one player,’’ he said. “We have a lot of good football players, and they’re going to all step up and we’ll be fine.’’

You don’t lose somebody as good as Cutler and be “fine.” Urlacher called the injury “devastating.’’

“We’ll be OK,’’ Urlacher said of Hanie. “It’s just … it’s not Jay. Jay was having a great season. It’s really sad for him.’’

You don’t fully appreciate someone until he’s gone, and that seemed to sink in for Urlacher, who spent a lot of time Monday gushing about Cutler’s leadership abilities. Smith stuck to his opinion that Cutler would be back by the end of the regular season, even if no one else seemed to be saying that. Smith also was saying Hanie is his quarterback.

That would have been comforting if he hadn’t once said the same thing about Rex Grossman.

Hanie might turn out to be a very good quarterback, but if he had been lighting up the Bears’ ­defense on a regular basis in practice, we probably would have heard about it by now. That’s not to say he won’t succeed Sunday in Oakland. It’s to say it has been awfully quiet on the Caleb for President front since the NFC Championship Game.

It’s also to say that the Raiders are going to blitz him like crazy Sunday.

Now the talk is that “all” the Bears have to do is go 3-3 the rest of the way to get to 10-6 and the playoffs. Those three victories will come against Kansas City, Denver and Seattle, the thinking goes. The optimism comes from the strength of the defense, Matt Forte’s running ability and Devin Hester’s special-teams magic. But there’s no ­minimizing Cutler’s absence.

He’ll have surgery to repair his fractured thumb soon, Smith said. What kind of surgery? Excellent question. The head coach of the Chicago Bears insists he doesn’t know the particulars about the injury to the best player on his team.

“This is what I wanted to know: Was it a season-ending injury? No,’’ Smith said. “What I’ve been told is we can expect him back at the end of the regular season. For me, that was enough to go on.’’

There’s still the yahoo ­element that wants the Bears to sign Brett Favre. Others want Kurt Warner or Marc Bulger, both of whom have played in Mike Martz’s system and both of whom are in need of the Tin Man’s oil can.

None of that matters. At this stage of the season, if the Bears are going to make the playoffs, it will have to be with Hanie.

Cutler apparently hurt himself while trying to tackle San Diego’s Antoine Cason, who was running back an interception.

“It was a great play by [Cutler] to keep him out of the end zone,’’ Urlacher said. “… [But] we’ll give him the pick-six for Jay back.’’

Too late. Now it’s Caleb Hanie Time. For better or worse, we’re about to find out what that is. One thing we know definitively: It’s better than Todd Collins Time.



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