Commentary

Memory burn

Caleb Hanie's performance Sunday evoked images of legendary Bears QB busts

Updated: December 6, 2011, 12:41 PM ET
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

CHICAGO -- We've seen this show before.

Take out Caleb Hanie's name and insert Craig Krenzel or Chad Hutchinson, and you get the drift.

The Chicago Bears love to tout tradition and history, and we're getting a good reminder of their quarterbacking woes since Sid Luckman laced up his high tops.

[+] EnlargeCaleb Hanie
Rob Grabowski/US PresswireNot all of Caleb Hanie's problems were self-induced. He didn't get much protection Sunday.

After Sunday's debacle ended, mercifully to viewers' bleeding eyes and Hanie's scrambled brain, reporters were busy trying to figure out how this loss compared to other classics in the rich, often embarrassing history of the Chicago Bears. We could play that game all day.

Remember when we convinced ourselves that Hanie could do this job? Yeah, and maybe I'll finally lose that 10 pounds I've been trying to shed since college.

After another feckless performance in the Bears' 10-3 loss to Kansas City, Hanie's once-intriguing prospects as a starting quarterback are dim, if not completely dark.

If you thought the season was over when Jay Cutler's thumb became a Twitter trending topic, you weren't far off. There are four games left and the Bears are still in playoff position, but it's not looking good if the Bears can't score at all on offense.

Offensive coordinator Mike Martz is possibly on his way out after this season, and the past two games aren't doing much for his C.V. I don't think he's going to highlight his work with Hanie in any interviews.

With Matt Forte ailing with a sprained MCL, you almost wish you could simulate the rest of the schedule like a bad season in Madden 12. No Cutler, maybe no Forte, what's the point? I'm still looking forward to the Tebow Game this week, but I bet some Bears fans are pretty scared. One loss could knock this team out of the playoffs, and Green Bay won't take it easy on Christmas.

Against a similarly terrible Chiefs offense, the defense did everything but bat down a Hail Mary pass in the end zone Sunday, but if Brian Urlacher's guys can't cause turnovers, all the three-and-outs in the world don't translate into points.

Spaeth There's a lot to be said for feeling comfortable back there, and I don't think he ever really felt that comfortable because they were getting pressure and he was getting flushed out.

-- Matt Spaeth on Caleb Hanie

Against all hope from the cockeyed optimists among us, it looks like Hanie is a first-ballot lock for a bust in the Hall of Bears' Bust Quarterbacks. Krenzel, Hutchinson, Rick Mirer, Kordell Stewart, Henry Burris, Moses Moreno. You know the names. It's a crowded Hall. I think it's located in an airplane hanger at O'Hare.

Sure, Hanie could turn it around starting next week in Denver -- it's a fair argument to say he's still getting his sea legs under him -- but maybe someone should get a sculptor to start sketching Hanie's HOBBQ bust ready just in case. He looks a little like Nick Lachey, mixed with a Von Trapp kid, if that helps.

Really, the Caleb Hanie Experience is nothing novel, just a new cycle of hoping and wishing against all evidence that a young, untested backup quarterback is capable of conjuring a first-rate performance out of thin air. What did we expect? He has next-to-no experience and his college team makes Cutler's Vanderbilt squads look like national championship contenders. Hanie, 26, wasn't ready. Maybe he never will be.

In a country that reveres football, it seems illogical there's a dearth of capable NFL quarterbacks, but I guess that's a testament to how hard that position really is.

Unlike his celebutante-dating buddy Cutler, Hanie seems too normal and well-adjusted as a person for this profession. He's the guy you want coaching your kids, but he's done nothing to make me believe he can win an NFL game.

Tyler Palko outplayed him Sunday, and it wasn't close. Palko's best throw was a Hail Mary to end the first half that Chris Conte and Urlacher batted into the hands of Dexter McCluster.

Hanie might want to ask Tim Tebow to bless his arm next week. Anything could help. I don't think more film is going to cut it.

Everyone likes Hanie, and wants to believe he can do the job, so we've found ourselves saying silly things like, "He looked OK in the second half" and "He'll get better next week." Enough. He deserves a chance to improve, but his window is closing.

He's so bad, those calls for Donovan McNabb don't look that silly right now.

Yes, the Bears, and Hanie, were crippled by myriad mental errors and unrelenting pressure, but if you were watching the game, if you could stand it, you didn't see the type of quarterback that takes a team to the playoffs. You saw Krenzel 2.0.

But like I said, it wasn't all him. Hanie did lead some decent drives late in the game, but it wasn't enough. He was sacked seven times, four in the fourth quarter. Of his three interceptions, only one was really valid. But still, he completed 11 of 24 passes for 133 yards. He was sacked seven times by a team that came into the game with 13 sacks, dead last in the NFL.

[+] EnlargeRoy Williams
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastRoy Williams' drop near the goal line sealed the Bears' fate.

"I know all the sacks weren't on them," Hanie said of his offensive line. "That's for sure. I'm sure I had a couple that were on me and the receivers will tell you that a couple were on them. So, it's a collective effort. Protection is a very collective effort."

Tight end Matt Spaeth had a rough game, missing the block that wound up knocking out Forte. He's used to blocking for an improvising quarterback from his days in Pittsburgh and knows the line needs to step up.

"We all have to elevate our game to help Caleb out," Spaeth said. "He was rushed a lot. There's a lot to be said for feeling comfortable back there, and I don't think he ever really felt that comfortable because they were getting pressure and he was getting flushed out. When that happens, you maybe come off a read earlier than you normally do."

Center Roberto Garza predictably took the blame afterward, following some Babylonian law of offensive linemen.

"We just didn't play well," Garza said. "It was strictly on the offensive line. We've got to go out there and block those guys and give him time, and we didn't do that today. Obviously it's not good enough. We'll come out and play better next week."

They couldn't play worse. I watch Mid-American Conference games with more polish.

In a game featuring offenses this inept, every chance was sacred, but the Bears were blasphemous.

Marion Barber wasn't on the line of scrimmage when he split out wide and caught an easy touchdown pass on fourth-and-1 from the Chiefs' 4-yard line in the second quarter -- a middle-school mistake.

Roy Williams bobbled a sure touchdown catch at the 1-yard line late in the fourth quarter, resulting in an interception in the end zone.

Hanie overthrew Earl Bennett twice in key situations -- in the first quarter on a fourth-and-2 play for a close first down, and again in the second quarter on a second-and-12 play from the Chiefs' 25-yard line, a play that should've been a touchdown. Those are passes that must be completed.

The Williams drop, just a classic Roy bobble, stings the most. It would've tied the game.

"People like to focus on one play in particular that makes or breaks the game," Hanie said. "But there are a lot of different plays you can point at that we should've done better on. It's just one of those tough breaks right there."

"It's on me," Williams said. "Put it on me."

It wasn't just on him, and he knew it. The Bears were 0-for-11 on third down. Of the Bears' 14 drives, nine were for less than 10 yards. Of Hanie's 133 yards, 63 came on two of his final drives.

Let's not kid ourselves. It's always about the quarterback. Cutler's thumb was everything it was cracked up to be. Often times, our worst fears are realized.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.