Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie, who had a 79.9 passer rating, was sacked four times by the Denver Broncos. | Joe Mahoney~AP
Updated: January 13, 2012 8:21AM
DENVER — The Bears finally found an effective formula for Caleb Hanie, but even that wasn’t enough.
Backed by a running attack that gained 159 yards on 38 carries, Hanie was given a modest workload Sunday against the Denver Broncos.
He was 12-for-19 for 115 yards and no touchdowns, but he also avoided the mistakes that doomed the Bears in losses to the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs. With a little help on a drop by cornerback Chris Harris, Hanie didn’t throw an interception after throwing six in his first two starts.
‘‘Ball security was pretty good — no turnovers today. That was an improvement,’’ said Hanie, whose 79.9 passer rating was his best in three starts in place of injured starter Jay Cutler. ‘‘We didn’t throw the ball so much because we were running the ball well and our defense was playing good. That’s kind of what the game called for.’’
An ironic twist added more frustration to the devastating loss. After leaning on the run most of the day, Hanie almost was a hero in overtime. He completed passes of 18 yards to Johnny Knox, five yards to Roy Williams and 16 yards to Marion Barber to get the Bears near field-goal range at the Broncos’ 41.
It wasn’t until they went back to the run that it all fell apart. On third-and-seven, Barber fumbled on a five-yard gain, and the Broncos’ Elvis Dumervil recovered.
‘‘We were moving the ball pretty good there,’’ Hanie said. ‘‘It’s just unfortunate.’’
The Bears likely would have won in regulation had Barber not saved the Broncos 30-40 seconds by inexplicably running out of bounds with 1:55 to play.
‘‘That was tough,’’ Hanie said. ‘‘You always want to stay inbounds in those situations. He was making a tough run, trying to get a couple more yards. But that didn’t lose the game for us. We lost it by not scoring more points.’’
As progress goes, Hanie took baby steps. His longest completion was 19 yards to Knox. Seven of his 12 completions were to running backs Kahlil Bell (five, 24 yards) and Barber (two, 32 yards).
In fact, Hanie’s only completion on the Bears’ six-play, 42-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter was a six-yard pass to Bell. On the next possession, he had completions of 17 yards to Williams — who made a nifty, reaching grab — and 16 yards to Barber on third-and-27 that set up Robbie Gould’s franchise-record 57-yard field goal that gave the Bears a 10-0 lead.
‘‘They’re a good defense,’’ said Hanie, who was sacked four times. ‘‘They’ve been holding a lot of guys down during their streak. They have good veteran players in their secondary, a lot of smart guys. They play hard and added good pressure today.
‘‘It’s tough, though. We definitely gave this one to them.’’