LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Caleb Hanie's optimistic remarks didn’t jibe with his downcast demeanor Wednesday, when the quarterback said “we know we have a tough task ahead, but it’s doable.”
Mired in a three-game losing streak with starting quarterback Jay Cutler out of commission with a thumb injury, the Chicago Bears consider themselves in a situation in which they need to win the next three contests for a legitimate shot to make the postseason. Although Hanie spoke positively about the team’s prospects, the quarterback acknowledged his role in the team’s recent slide.
“I’d love to be 3-0,” Hanie said. “I’m trying to do the best I can out there during the week and on the field. I haven’t gotten the job done so far. But I’m confident if I keep plugging away, I’ll make the plays that put us over the hump.”
Obviously, somebody needs to.
Since Cutler suffered the thumb injury on his throwing hand on Nov. 20, the Bears have scored just 10 points in the first half of the three games in which Hanie was at the helm. Surprisingly, the Bears trailed just 12-7 and 7-3 at intermission in losses to Oakland and Kansas City, and on Sunday were in a scoreless tie with the Denver Broncos at the half.
Since Nov. 27, Hanie has directed 43 possessions in three games for the Bears, netting three touchdowns, four field goals, 23 punts, six interceptions and a fumble, all while scoring just 33 points.
“When we watch the film we see [that] a lot of things that teams are doing to win games is not because of them, it’s because of us,” running back Kahlil Bell said. “[It’s] because of lack of execution or just not paying attention to the little details. If we can do that, I think we’re gonna be alright.”
Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz defended the struggling signal-caller on Wednesday.
"I think 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. And people right now are going to blitz the heck out of him, so it’s going to make him a little bit uneasy. We’ve got to make an effort to do that earlier in the game, I think, too. He’ll be alright. He’ll be alright."
Hanie said he “felt we’d be winning games, and making enough plays to get it done” when the team named him the starter, but has learned that “wins are tough to come by.”
Hanie has completed 50 percent or lower of his passes in two of three games.
“We’re trying to push through. It’s a change for everybody,” Hanie said. “It’s just not the quarterback changing. It’s everybody getting used to everybody; everybody getting used to me, and me getting used to everybody, playing in an NFL game, four quarters, getting used to that. [It’s also] seeing all the looks, making all the plays that need to be made, being sharp on every single pass. It’s a tough game, and quarterback’s a tough position.”
Fortunately for Hanie, his teammates maintain their belief in the quarterback’s ability to take the Bears to the postseason. After throwing six interceptions in his first two starts with passer ratings of 56.9 and 23.8, Hanie played a turnover-free game against the Broncos in which he generated a passer rating of 79.9.
“He’s made some throws. He’s sitting the pocket. He’s putting us in a position to win football games,” center Roberto Garza said. “We’ve been in every game. He’ll continue to get better, but he’s not the only guy that needs to play better. We all do.”
Hanie also needs to consider his future. Playing on a one-year tender worth $1.2 million, he is basically auditioning for his livelihood as a professional. Hanie has shown progress, but hasn’t made a significant enough impact to garner interest from other teams looking for solid backups once he becomes an unrestricted free agent at the conclusion of the season.
Hanie’s body of work thus far might not be enough to warrant the Bears bringing him back, even at a reduced rate.
“I’m not worried about [me], personally. All I’m worried about is the team,” Hanie 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 other teams will slip up. So I’m not worried about any personal goals or agendas at this time [other than] getting better. [There’s] no doubt in my mind we’ll bounce back strong this week."