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Slow start by Caleb Hanie overshadows his fast finish

Quarterback Caleb Hanie threw three interceptions first half two which could be blamed him. | Paul Sakuma~AP

Quarterback Caleb Hanie threw three interceptions in the first half, two of which could be blamed on him. | Paul Sakuma~AP

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Updated: January 27, 2012 1:40AM

OAKLAND, Calif. — Despite the stone slab, the robed priests and the knives the Raiders had ready for him Sunday, Caleb Hanie was not a human sacrifice, and it was imperative he let them know that early.

He needed to do something that would make them think of him as dangerous, something like the 81-yard completion he would have late in the game.

Had he done so, he might have gotten the bloodthirsty Raiders out of his face and some of those hideous creatures in the crowd, whatever they are, off his back.

But he didn’t and that, friends, is why Hanie and Bears coach Lovie Smith were reduced to talking about a 25-20 loss as something to build on for the future.

They needed to carry away something more than building materials. The craziest thing about this game was not the team-record 80-yard punt by the Raiders’ Shane Lechler or Sebastian Janikowski’s team-record six field goals for Oakland. It’s that the Bears could have won this game had Hanie not been so awful in the first half.

That must sound like the biggest “if” since “if pigs could circumnavigate the globe.’’ But it happens to be true.

What sticks out about Sunday’s game is that it’s impossible to tell which quarterback Hanie is — the one who threw for 254 yards and two touchdowns or the one who threw three first-half interceptions. Anybody who says he knows is lying.

Maybe Hanie isn’t capable of putting together a spotless game. And maybe talking about what might have been is folly. But Oakland spent most of Sunday ­afternoon having an allergic reaction to the end zone, giving the Bears a chance to win. And if Hanie had done something early to put the Raiders on their heels, maybe they would have shown him some respect in his first career start instead of disdain for his abilities.

He admitted to a case of nerves in the first quarter, and Bears fans are left to hope that’s the reason he attempted to throw a pass to Matt Forte when he should have chucked the ball out of bounds. It looked more a matter of rashness than nervousness. The pass landed short of its target and into the hands of cornerback Stanford Routt.

“I was a little antsy early on, a little too amped,’’ Hanie said.

The idea was for him to be ­conservative, to not make ­mistakes. Nothing else. In that sense, the game couldn’t have been more disappointing. His second interception, an overthrown pass to Forte, was on the quarterback, as well. The third one, a throwback screen across the field to tight end Kellen Davis with 35 seconds left in the first half, was on offensive coordinator Mike Martz. The Bears trailed 9-7, and Hanie was still feeling good about the 29-yard touchdown pass he had thrown to Johnny Knox.

Why try something so risky? The result was a 73-yard interception return by linebacker Kamerion Wimbley. It would have been worse if Bears tackle Lance Louis hadn’t hustled downfield to make a tackle. The Raiders settled for a field goal, as they would most of the day.

Afterward on the bench, Hanie had a towel over his head, the universal symbol for defeat. But the darkness lifted soon after, and Hanie started to look like an NFL quarterback.

At times, he looked like Jay Cutler, the man he was replacing. He can run with the football. He should have run more often. He hit Knox with that 81-yard bomb late in the game, putting everything into it, and it would lead two plays later to a touchdown pass to Davis to make it 25-20.

Unfortunately, he looked like Cutler, circa 2009, with the interceptions he threw.

“Not good,’’ Hanie said of his day. “You have that many ­turnovers, you’re not going to win that many games.’’

There were bits and pieces of very good mixed in with doses of terrible.

“I just feel bad that I had to go through the mistakes quarterbacks go through sometimes,’’ he said.

If we knew that it was all part of a process, that those mistakes would inevitably lead to enlightenment and a playoff berth, Sunday would be easier to understand. But we don’t know. We don’t know who or what Hanie is after his first start.

The glass is either half full or half empty, Bears fans. Close your eyes and hazard a guess.

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