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Instead of bumbling Tyler Palko, Caleb Hanie’s Bears might have to deal with Kyle Orton

Caleb Hanie could be facing Kyle Ort(above) instead Tyler Palko Sunday against Chiefs. | Doug Pensinger~Getty Images

Caleb Hanie could be facing Kyle Orton (above) instead of Tyler Palko on Sunday against the Chiefs. | Doug Pensinger~Getty Images

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Updated: December 30, 2011 8:21AM

Caleb Hanie was all over the map Sunday, which would have been fine if he drove a tractor-trailer and not a football team. After watching him throw three interceptions and two touchdown passes against the Raiders, I wrote that I didn’t know what he was as a quarterback.

With some time to ponder, I realized I was wrong.

I know what Hanie is: He is a lot better than Kansas City’s Tyler Palko. To put it in perspective for Bears fans, Palko walks among Jonathan Quinn, Craig Krenzel and Chad Hutchinson in the Land of Bad.

And that’s the problem for the Bears as they prepare to play the Chiefs. If Palko were less horrible, perhaps he’d be Kansas City’s starting quarterback this Sunday at Soldier Field. But he had three interceptions in a loss to the Steelers over the weekend, giving him six in the last two games.

That means their coach, Todd Haley, would have to be insane to put Palko back on the field. If Haley is in possession of all his faculties, he’ll start Kyle Orton against the Bears, a delicious development if you like a good story line. If you like a Bears victory, you might not see it that way.

Orton asked the Broncos to waive him soon after Bears quarterback Jay Cutler broke his right thumb. And by “soon” I mean “nanoseconds.” You didn’t have to use up too many brain cells to conclude that Orton wanted to come to Chicago because he thought he was better than Hanie. The Bears wanted him, too, and it didn’t take much effort to conclude that they agreed with Orton.

One problem: The Chiefs claimed Orton before the Bears did.

And now Orton might get a chance to make life unpleasant for the Bears, whose playoff hopes remain slippery despite a 7-4 record. What had been a likely victory over the Chiefs isn’t so certain with Orton behind center.

The Bears have their own worries with Hanie, thanks to those three interceptions in the loss to Oakland. That’s not a good number, but it’s not nearly as outrageous as the 36 passes he threw. That’s how you protect a guy making his first NFL start? The Bears can say it shows how much confidence they have in Hanie, but if the idea was for him to keep mistakes to a minimum, 36 passes is asking for trouble. The Bears asked, and they received.

Something happens to offensive coordinator Mike Martz when he gets to the coaches’ box on game day. I think he takes a sign out of his briefcase that says “Genius At Work,” puts it on the table in front of him and gets down to business. Two or three times a season, the Bears make him hand it in and force him to reacquaint himself with reality.

The reality is that the Bears have one of the better running backs in the NFL in Matt Forte, and he needs to have the ball. The Raiders were stacking the box to stop him, but would you rather lose because of Hanie’s passing or Forte’s running? I’ll take the guy with the track record over the guy who had thrown 14 career regular-season passes coming into the game.

In theory, the game against the Chiefs should be easier for Hanie. He’ll be at home instead of in front of a crowd of roaring, frothing, quite possibly heat-packing fans in Oakland. The fans at Soldier Field will be behind him, provided he throws the ball to the guys in the correct uniforms. If he doesn’t, well, see Quinn-Krenzel-Hutchinson.

The Bears will see Orton and the Broncos’ Tim Tebow in back-to-back weeks. In terms of viewing pleasure, that’s pretty good stuff.

You get the former Bear who got traded for Cutler, then wanted to come back to Chicago but couldn’t.

The next week, you get a guy who doesn’t look like an NFL quarterback but somehow wins game after game. If you listen to Tebow’s followers, the victories are rolling in because the Broncos have a 12th man in the huddle: God. The league might want to look into that.

Is Hanie on shaky ground? It’s too early too tell. He has some ability, and his backup, Josh McCown, has thrown six passes since 2008. There aren’t a lot of options. At least there’s one concrete answer, even if it might not be a good answer for the Bears: Hanie is clearly better than Tyler Palko.

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