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Caleb Hanie needs to clean up his act if Bears are to contend

Quarterback Caleb Hanie’s take after his first NFL start: “Hopefully next week it will clean up.”  |  Ben

Quarterback Caleb Hanie’s take after his first NFL start: “Hopefully, next week it will clean up.” | Ben Margot~AP

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Updated: November 28, 2011 1:04PM



OAKLAND, Calif. — Caleb Hanie summed up the Bears’ sloppy, turnover-laden 25-20 loss to the Raiders best: “It’s just not a good time to have a learning experience.’’

Nope, not here in “The Black Hole,’’ in Game No. 11, when every win is critical for one of the coveted NFC wild-card spots.

Hanie, the 26-year old Bears quarterback starting his first NFL game while filling in for the broken-thumbed Jay Cutler, then added philosophically,”It is what it is.’’

Isn’t it?

Nor is there much the Bears can do about it except hope Hanie learns faster than a genius baby with a computer in his pacifier.

Stats such as these — 18 completions in 36 passing attempts for 254 yards, two touchdowns, three interceptions, and four sacks — aren’t going to win you many games.

It was nice that Hanie scrambled five times for 50 yards, but on at least one of those runs he looked close to being halfway killed. In the fourth quarter Raiders 6-4, 255-pound linebacker Kamerion Wimbley laid a helmet-to-helmet tackle on Hanie, and there are only so many times a man can survive such things.

Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz has a system in which backup quarterbacks get few — usually no — snaps during game week, and that was a problem. Hanie has barely run any of the Bears offense for over 3 1/2 years, his life in the NFL.

Starter Cutler has been resilient in his Bears career, and Hanie had thrown 14 passes until he subbed for Cutler in the 2010 NFC Championship Game last January after Cutler hurt his knee.

Hanie threw 20 passes in the second half of that loss, and he threw no more until Sunday afternoon here at O.co Coliseum.

Ten months of rust.

So if it is what it is, maybe it can improve.

It’d better.

Hanie admitted that he was too jacked up at the start, too dizzy from everything that was thrown at him during the past week, including Thanksgiving.

But he said he felt comfortable by the end, and he did have an 81-yard bomb to wideout Johnny Knox with three minutes to go. But that was too little too late.

And when Hanie intentionally grounded the ball with four seconds left in the game — while trying to spike it or look for an open receiver or do something unknown — he was called for a penalty and that ended the game.

Yes, the Bears were near midfield, but a savvy, game-ready quarterback would never have done that. A last-second Hail Mary pass into the end zone would have at least been more dignified.

“That was just my fault,’’ Hanie said. And no one disagreed.

But, one supposes, you reap what you sow. And if Hanie is Cutler’s replacement, the Bears better do something for him, pronto.

“We’d like to have a couple of plays back,’’ coach Lovie Smith said.

Let’s start with the three interceptions, and maybe end there. They were not quality interceptions, the kind that happen in close plays where a defender is making an All-Pro move. They were, “Aw, crud, why’d I do that?’’ interceptions.

One was way short to running back Matt Forte. One was a deep, late rainbow down the middle — a textbook no-no.

And one was a parallel, across-the-field, screen-pass horror that turned into a meandering 73-yard interception return by the gigantic Wimbley, who was eventually dragged down like a rodeo bull by the even-more-gigantic, 320-pound Bears offensive lineman Lance Louis.

(A note here: Louis should get some sort of game ball and a week of hot-tub rest for the incredible, touchdown-saving journey he made.)

So what Hanie showed was that he is green and raw and inexperienced and sometimes confused.

Of that screen-pass interception he said, “I got it over the first guy, which is how it usually works out in practice — if there’s one guy in between you and [the receiver], you get it over and its a touchdown, normally,.’’

Yes, in practice. If you ever even get to practice.

Hanie, to be fair, showed some deep talent, too.

His late-game heave to Knox was a brilliant throw that covered at least 55 yards in the air.

But mistakes will kill you in the NFL. And there isn’t a whole lot of time to learn on the job.

In two series in the first half, Hanie threw a three-yard completion, got whistled for a delay of game, scrambled for 24 yards, threw a 29-yard TD to Knox, then threw that hideous Wimbley pick-off.

“Hopefully, next week it will clean up,’’ he said.

It better, or it will be pretty dirty.



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