If history repeats itself, Caleb Hanie should be able to keep the Bears on a roll
by mark potash email@example.com November 22, 2011 10:56PM
Bears' third string quarterback Caleb Hanie scrambles for extra yards during his teams loss to Green Bay Sunday evening in Chicago. | Michael R. Schmidt~Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 24, 2011 8:23AM
Caleb Hanie is not in a class with Jay Cutler as an NFL quarterback. But is he at least in a class with Koy Detmer, A.J. Feeley, Anthony Wright, Chris Simms, Damon Huard, Luke McCown, David Garrard and Quinn Gray? All of them were young, inexperienced, mostly unheralded backup quarterbacks who stepped in for established starters in the second half of a season and kept their teams’ playoff hopes alive or took them all the way to the finish.
If the Bears medical team’s rosy prognosis for Cutler’s broken thumb turns out to be on target, Hanie’s challenge of getting the Bears to the postseason is not that daunting. It’s not like it hasn’t been done before. Just ask Wright or Simms — wherever they are.
It helps to have factors in your favor that put the wind at your back, like a manageable schedule, a defense that gives you a greater margin for error and the momentum of a winning record. Hanie has varying degrees of those factors on his side, heading into his first NFL start at Oakland on Sunday. Plus one that can’t be discounted: He has played behind Cutler for nearly three years.
The advantage of playing behind Cutler is that there’s no subtlety to him. Much of Aaron Rodgers’ magic is hard to define. But Cutler is like Brett Favre. He lays it all out there for you — what you can do, what you can’t do and what you should never, ever even try to do.
All you have to do is pay attention. Look at what three years of playing behind Favre did for Rodgers. As great as he was, Favre threw 32 interceptions that were returned for touchdowns in his career — one for every 16 touchdown passes he threw. Rodgers has thrown one pick-six in 64 games and 1,940 passes — one for every 118 touchdown passes. He’s the best quarterback in football because he learned not only what to do, but what not to do. He had a great teacher.
On a smaller scale, Hanie has the same advantage.
But he also has some history on his side. If these guys did it, he can, too:
David Garrard, Jaguars (2005)
Garrard was in his fourth NFL season and had made only three starts when Byron Leftwich suffered a broken ankle against Arizona in Week 11. Garrard led the Jaguars to a victory that gave them a 7-3 record. He went 4-1 as a starter — beating teams with a combined record of 11-41 — as the Jaguars finished 12-4 to make the AFC playoffs. His 88.4 passer rating as a starter was just behind Leftwich’s 89.3.
Koy Detmer/A.J. Feeley, Eagles (2002)
The Eagles were 7-3 when Donovan McNabb suffered a broken right ankle against the Cardinals. Detmer, who had started five games in six seasons, threw two touchdown passes and had a 115.8 rating in a 38-17 rout of the 49ers but suffered a dislocated elbow. Feeley, a second-year player who had never started in the NFL, went 4-1 with five touchdown passes, five interceptions and a 72.6 rating as the Eagles finished 12-4.
Chris Simms, Buccaneers (2005)
Jon Gruden’s Buccaneers were 5-1 when Brian Griese was lost for the season with torn knee ligaments. Simms, a third-year player who had started two NFL games, lost his first two starts in place of Griese but won six of the next eight as the Bucs finished 11-5. Simms’ 81.4 rating (10 touchdown passes, seven interceptions) was even higher than Griese’s 79.6.
Anthony Wright, Ravens (2003)
Like Simms, Wright didn’t have big shoes to fill when rookie Kyle Boller was lost for the season. The Ravens were 5-4 at the time, but with their standout defense and Jamal Lewis’ 2,066 yards and 14 touchdowns, all he had to do was stay clean. Wright, a fourth-year player who had started five NFL games, had ratings of 65.8 or lower in five of seven starts, but he threw more touchdown passes (nine) than interceptions (eight), and the Ravens went 5-2 to finish 10-6 and make the playoffs.
Quinn Gray, Jaguars (2007)
Garrard parlayed his 2005 opportunity into a starting job, but he suffered a sprained ankle that kept him out for three games. The Jaguars were 4-2 and turned to Gray, a fourth-year player from Florida A&M making his first NFL start. Gray threw for 100 and 101 yards in victories over the Bucs and Titans and 354 with three interceptions in a loss to the Saints. He kept the Jaguars in contention at 6-3 when Garrard returned. They finished 11-5, one game ahead of the Titans.