By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Try to remember how you felt as soon as you got the news about Jay Cutler’s broken thumb, and how long he’d be out. Dig deep, and access that moment – recapture the feeling like a trained method-actor.
Got it? OK. Now, remember why it was that you felt that way.
Not to be presumptuous, but I think it’s because you knew how important talented passers are to NFL offenses, particularly those for teams with designs on the postseason. Nobody should be surprised that an inexperienced, backup quarterback played mostly badly. You know why?
Because he isn’t very good. And because he had only thrown 14 regular-season passes in his career, and because he never gets any first-team reps in practice, since Mike Martz doesn’t believe in such things.
Caleb Hanie was plenty confident all week, his chance at the big-boy lectern letting him come off with something resembling a swagger. And his coaches and teammates sure sounded similarly — if blandly and nebulously — positive about what he could do. We can guess this was based on the second half of last year’s NFC title game, in which he rallied the Bears to a loss.
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It was not based on the inexcusable interception he threw in that game (the one so conveniently forgotten), nor on his lackluster training camp performance this summer, that saw him demoted to third-string for a day behind Nathan Enderle. Or is it Ethan Nenderle?
A week of print puffery, undeserved comparisons and hopeful coach-speak was exposed by the kind of first half guys in his position often have. His three interceptions (two of them utterly inexplicable) were mitigated mildly by some garbage-time completions, and the game ended on a bizarre delayed-spike intentional grounding penalty and clock runoff that nobody had ever seen before. So, at least it was interesting.
The good news is that the upcoming schedule against teams like Kansas City, God’s Chosen Team, Seattle and Minnesota is weak enough that he doesn’t need to play all that well, provided he and Martz can figure some way to stop the turnovers.
It’s not just rationalization to think that the Bears’ stout defense and reliable specialists are enough to hold them in the tier above the bottom-feeders, and that it should be enough for the three wins they need to back into a wild-card and hope for Cutler’s return, unlikely as that may be.
But some of the Hanie stuff last week got silly. Interviews with his coaches and teammates from high school and college singing his many praises should be ignored. What do you expect them to say?: “Well, Caleb was good at this level, but we here in Forney, Texas stand behind our collective feeling that he lacks the ability to process what he sees from fast, complicated NFL defenses well enough to make the proper throws on time.” Or “He was undrafted for a reason, you know. Every team in the league had enough chances to prove that they thought he was a prospect, and nobody did.”
We, of all cities, should know better. We don’t need artificial reasons for optimism.
After the game Sunday, Hanie said “I’ll get better,” and perhaps he will. He doesn’t have to be a hero, doesn’t have to make spectacular, highlight throws. He needn’t try to carry anything, no matter how certain he may be that he could.
All he needs to be is something other than what he just was – the main reason the Bears lost.
Dan Bernstein has been the co-host of “Boers and Bernstein” since 1999. He joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995. The Boers and Bernstein Show airs every weekday from 1PM to 6PM on The Score, 670AM. Read more of Bernstein’s columns here. Follow him on Twitter @dan_bernstein.
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