Caleb Hanie: 3 Ways He Can Help the Chicago Bears Earn a Wild Card Berth
Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler is the latest in a string of starting quarterbacks to go down with injury. He is expected to miss up to eight weeks after thumb surgery, which would clearly represent the remainder of the regular season.
Filling in for the 7-3 Bears will be Colorado State product Caleb Hanie. The Bears have won five straight games and six of seven, so the pressure is clearly on for Hanie.
Many may be inclined to throw in the towel on behalf of Chicago, but I believe the team is still in good position to make the playoffs as an NFC Wild Card team.
Here are three reasons to expect the Bears to play past Week 17.
Not many quarterbacks in NFL history can say they've played in a conference championship game with barely any prior experience and nearly won it.
Caleb Hanie can.
From 2008-10, Hanie amassed 66 passing yards with no touchdowns and one interception as a third-string backup.
In the NFC Championship against Green Bay last January, both Cutler and Todd Collins were taken out with injuries. Down 14-0 late in the third quarter, Lovie Smith threw Hanie into the deep end.
Hanie responded with a touchdown drive in his first series, which included a 32-yard pass to Johnny Knox.
Unfortunately, he also threw a pick-six to Packers DT BJ Raji.
But with the score 21-7, Hanie led another scoring drive, capped by a 35-yard touchdown strike to Earl Bennett.
Late in the game, Hanie had a chance to tie the score at 21. He led the Bears within 30 yards of a third touchdown but threw a game-ending interception.
The Green Bay Packers went on to win the Super Bowl, but they probably will never underestimate Caleb Hanie.
Experience like that should prove invaluable as Hanie takes the reigns at this crucial moment.
Through 10 games, the Bears have beaten the teams they were supposed to and haven't lost to any inferior teams. Their three losses came at New Orleans, home against Green Bay and at Detroit. No slouches.
Caleb Hanie begins his starting campaign Sunday in Oakland against the 6-4 Raiders, who are on a two-game win streak.
The only inconceivable win I see for Chicago the rest of the way is at Green Bay.
By season's end, the Bears could finish around 11-5 with good play by Hanie.
As of now, the Bears' main threats to a Wild Card spot are Detroit (also 7-3) and Atlanta at 6-4. The Giants are 6-4 also, but their season is spiraling out of control with a tough stretch of games still to come.
I see the Lions finishing around 11-5, but Chicago has already beaten them and would make the playoffs if only the second Wild Card spot was available.
And assuming these were the final two teams in the picture.
But 11-5 isn't guaranteed for Detroit.
Atlanta seemingly has one of the easier paths to a Wild Card spot right now, but that's if they don't jump the Saints in the NFC South.
The combination of the Saints and Falcons present a playoff obstacle for the Bears, but Caleb Hanie needs to just focus on winning and let the rest fall into place.
Multiple Offensive Weapons
I'm sure the first thing Bears coaches told Hanie was not to be a hero.
The team is based on a run system that yields nearly 117 yards per game with Matt Forte and Marion Barber.
Forte is also a major piece of the passing game out of the backfield.
He leads the Bears in total receptions with 46 and is second in yards with 465. Hanie should develop an early chemistry with Forte and find him with short passes and screens.
Doing so will boost his confidence for when it comes time to throw longer passes.
The passing game in Chicago does not receive the accolades of the traditionally high-flying teams, but it gets the job done.
I'm a stats guy, so consider these stats: They have seven players averaging over 11 yards per catch, meaning effectiveness on every touch.
Five players have 271 receiving yards or more, but no one has over 477, meaning they spread the ball around well.
Along those lines, eight different players have caught touchdowns, but no one has more than three.
For these reasons, I believe the offense is well-positioned for Caleb Hanie to come in right now and win.
Rather than being forced to utilize only a couple key players, Hanie will have the flexibility of multiple producers around him.
Not to mention teams still make the mistake of kicking to Devin Hester, who can put six on the board at any moment.
As long as the Bears defense remains effective, I truly believe Hanie can lead them to a Wild Card spot. Some well-timed losses by the right teams wouldn't hurt, either.