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Wrong-way Bears need to stop and ask for directions

Chicago Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie hands off running back Matt Forte first quarter Bears 10-3 loss Kansas City Chiefs Sunday

Chicago Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie hands off to running back Matt Forte in the first quarter of the Bears 10-3 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs Sunday December 4, 2011 at Soldier Field in Chicago. | Tom Cruze~Sun-Times

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Updated: January 7, 2012 8:16AM



Coming out of their bye, immediately after polishing off the San Diego Chargers in convincing fashion, the Bears looked like a potential Super Bowl contender.

Against the Philadelphia Eagles, Detroit Lions and San Diego Chargers, the Bears generated 32.6 points and 3.6 turnovers per game, counting on its stable of veteran stars to lead them.

In the two games since, despite its position as the No. 5 seed in the NFC, the Bears have turned the ball over six times and committed countless mistakes unbecoming of a playoff team.

“Looking at the video from yesterday’s game, we just didn’t play well,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said Monday. “I know it’s a little bit more complicated than that. But didn’t get a lot done. It hasn’t happened a lot of times around here. And it won’t happen many more times hopefully in the future.”

The Bears control their own destiny in the NFC. And while there’s legitimate concerns about the absence of the offense’s top two players — quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte — the issues against the Kansas City Chiefs point to a larger problem.

Despite a gruesome hit he endured from Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson, Forte learned Monday morning that he had a Grade II MCL tear in his right knee, a positive prognosis. The timetable for such an injury is generally two to four weeks, and Smith said the club would “hopefully get him back soon,” as in before the regular season ends. It’s also believed that Forte is strongly considering a platelet-rich plasma injection, which would potentially speed healing about a week. That’s normally administered 48 to 72 hours after the injury.

Cutler could also return, most likely for the postseason.

But filling the void of Cutler and Forte isn’t going to come from the outside. Smith made that clear, backing Caleb Hanie as the starting quarterback and dismissing the possibility of addressing that position with any free agents, the most notable being Chicago native Donovan McNabb.

“That’s our group,” Smith said, referring to Hanie, rookie Nate Enderle and veteran Josh McCown. “We’re going to make improvements with our group, like all positions. We’re not looking on the outside. We’re not having a quarterback tryout or anything like that. These are our guys and they’re all going to get better.”

If his performance in the NFC title game was Hanie’s high, then his outing against the Chiefs was his low.

He was intercepted three times, sacked seven times, completed less than half his passes and he struggled on third downs, with the Bears going 0-for-11.

But Hanie is the obvious and easy scapegoat.

While many had admirable efforts in Oakland, the Bears collectively whiffed against a Chiefs team that had lost four straight and started an inexperienced quarterback who tossed six interceptions in his previous two games.

Robbie Gould, who is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season, missed a 41-yard field goal wide left. Roy Williams dropped a potential touchdown pass that was intercepted. Matt Spaeth failed to block Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson, who knocked Forte out in the first quarter. And while Hanie held onto the ball too long in several instances, the Bears pass protection, overall, was insufficient.

“It’s strictly on the offensive line,” Bears center Roberto Garza said. “We have to go out there and block those guys and give him time, and we didn’t do that. Obviously, it’s not good enough.”

While the defense gave up just 10 points, it allowed the Chiefs to convert five third-down plays in the first half, including the 38-yard Hail Mary that was the biggest play of the game. That backup safety Craig Steltz finished with a game-high 10 tackles — none for a loss — was the ultimate blight.

“We all have to play better,” Bears cornerback Corey Graham said. “I’m pretty sure the offense feels like they’ve got to help [Hanie] out more, the receivers, O-line; and as far as defense, we didn’t create any turnovers and on special teams we didn’t have any big-time returns.”

With four games left, it’s unclear what the Bears’ peak will be. But, through the first 12 games, there’s no question what the low point is.



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