A silver lining could be that Caleb Hanie is “getting some experience,” Roy Williams said. | Nam Y. Huh~AP
Updated: January 16, 2012 10:36AM
A little more than three weeks ago, after a fifth consecutive victory, the Bears were one of the NFL’s hottest teams.
That high was fleeting as news of Jay Cutler’s broken thumb was revealed piece by piece.
Three losses later, the Bears have gone from playoff insider to outsider, yet they’ve avoided one of the usual precursors to a team’s implosion: the fracturing of the locker room.
Despite the palpable disappointment, especially after blowing a 10-point, fourth-quarter lead in Denver, the Bears collectively fingered themselves as the problem, with the exception of Marion Barber. The running back, who has a history of shying away from interviews, wasn’t around Sunday when reporters were allowed to enter the visitors’ locker room at Sports Authority Field and didn’t speak Wednesday after practice at Halas Hall.
Yet teammates and coaches — publicly and privately — defended Barber and quarterback Caleb Hanie, who is 0-3 as a starter and has a passer rating of 48.6.
It’s a moral victory, yet one that speaks to the character of the players the Bears have assembled.
“This is the best team I’ve been on,” said receiver Roy Williams, who is playing for his third franchise in his eighth NFL season. “Each year, the makeup is different. But this team is the best I’ve been on, period. You’ve got unselfish guys and guys who are accountable.
“Even if the guy didn’t mess up, he still blames himself.”
Ever the optimist, coach Lovie Smith highlighted Hanie’s play in overtime, when he completed three of four passes for 39 yards, before Barber lost a fumble in Broncos territory.
Asked what Hanie must do, Williams said, “Just keep chopping wood. Eventually, it’s going to click. Eventually.”
Then, Williams paused.
“Unfortunately, we’re kind of running out of time, so we need to click here soon,” Williams said. “That’s the tough thing.”
In his fourth season with the Bears, Hanie is getting valuable experience. But he’ll be an unrestricted free agent, so he’s learning on a veteran, playoff-caliber team.
Asked what he has learned, Hanie said, “That wins are tough to come by.
“They don’t hand them out. The plays that are out there, they have to be made.”
While he didn’t have any turnovers against the Broncos, after throwing six interceptions in losses to the Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs, Hanie did miss several key passes, including his only attempt in the fourth quarter.
Hanie pointed to a third-and-10, early in the fourth quarter. On the play, he missed a pass to a wide-open Barber, who might have scored if the pass had been on target.
“It was a big play,” Hanie said. “It was there for the taking and I just missed him. Those are the ones you always want back. And those things are magnified when you lose. That’s just something you’ve got to deal with.
“I own that play. I own all the passes that I miss. So I just got to hit it.”
Offensive coordinator Mike Martz said there is “no question [Hanie is] getting better.” And he noted something he could do to help Hanie be more successful.
“What’s unfair to him is we’ve been really holding off and waiting until third down to throw the ball, and that’s hard,” Martz said. “People are going to blitz the heck out of him, so it’s going to make him a little uneasy.”
Then, Martz insisted that Hanie will improve the more he plays.
“He’s going to have a long career,” Martz said. “He’s basically a rookie learning as he goes.”
Despite some struggles, Hanie proved in last season’s NFC title game that he had plenty of potential, Williams said.
“The good thing is, he’s getting some experience,” Williams said. “He’s learning from his mistakes so if Jay was to ever get injured again, he would be really ready to go, by that point and time.”
But Williams and even Hanie are scheduled to be free agents, so the 2012 Bears won’t be able to reap those benefits, if they materialize at all.
Hanie insisted he’s not worried about himself.
“All I’m worried about is the team,” he said. “It’s a critical stretch for the team. We’ve got three games. We’re in the playoff hunt still. We’re confident that if we win out that other teams will slip up.
“I’m not worried about any personal goals or agendas at this time, besides getting better and making the plays I need to make during the game.”