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SportsMonday: Paging Kyle Orton!

The kid is lucky the Bears didn't sign Orton.

Everyone was going nuts last year (myself very much included) when the coaching staff left in way-past-his-expiration-date quarterback Todd Collins to lead a second straight ineffective possession against the Packers in the NFC Championship game. But there was Caleb Hanie still in there for the second half on Sunday during the Bears' 25-20 loss to the Raiders after a grim first 30 minutes. Before the intermission he reminded us that there is ineffective (Collins last year) and there is willfully self-destructive.

Of course, if the Chiefs hadn't claimed Kyle Orton off waivers before the Bears had the chance last week, Hanie would still have been on the field in the second half against the Raiders. And he still would be the starter this coming Sunday against the Chiefs. And he still may end up being a decent quarterback in the NFL. How many times do commentators have to watch quarterbacks who have been in the league for five-plus years finally get it before they stop completely condemning signal-callers who have been in the league for only a few campaigns and are still struggling? For many guys it takes a long time to figure out how to play this toughest of positions in this toughest of leagues.

But if the Bears had signed Orton and he had this week to prepare, Hanie would be looking at a much shorter leash against Kansas City. A couple of picks and he'd be bench-bound. As it stands, he would have to be considerably worse in the first half this coming Sunday than he was against the Raiders in order for veteran backup Josh McCown to get into the game versus the Chiefs and I'm not sure that's possible.

As for the difficult details of the loss that left the Bears 7-4 and tied for a projected wild-card spot, well, it must first be noted that the third Hanie pick was at least as much on the play-caller as the quarterback. The first two . . . come on, Caleb! But that third one, well, the Raiders clearly engaged in comprehensive film study because the play was virtually identical to one the Bears ran in the season opener against the Falcons. Clearly Kamerion Wimbley and Aaron Curry in particular weren't surprised when Hanie turned and fired an almost blind pass back toward tight end Kellen Davis.

Only Lance Louis's spectacular hustle play, during which the tackle covered almost the entire length of the field to make a tackle, prevented a crushing touchdown against (proposed rule change - offensive linemen who cover more than 50 yards to make a tackle are allowed to grab ball-carriers by their collars). Wimbley went down near the 10, a penalty was assessed, the Bear defense held and the Raiders kicked a field goal.

Hanie has to know he can't throw that pass if he isn't utterly confident the entire defense has been fooled. But Martz should have known that a young quarterback will be far more likely to simply turn and heave a throw on that sort of play.

Back to the big picture for a moment: Using Hanie's performance on Sunday as a lens with which to better view Cutler's 2011 season, one realizes that the big thing Cutler has done this year is cut way down on the sorts of disaster picks that lose football games all by themselves.

And back to the details: That was one beautiful deep ball Hanie threw and one beautiful catch Johnny Knox made on that 81-yard play in the last few minutes. It is hard to understand why the Bears don't run at least one of those plays (a bomb to Knox) every game.

As for the defense: Welcome back, pass rush. That was a quality performance by Julius Peppers and Amobi Okoye in particular. As a result, Carson Palmer made numerous ill-advised throws. On the other hand, any time you want to actually grab one of those about four near-interceptions you had, Tim Jennings, that would be great.

And finally, the opposing coach: Good thing the Bears didn't quite find a way to come back and win that game, Hue Jackson. You would have had some serious splainin' to do. I don't care how messed up the personnel package was after that Darius Heyward-Bey sideline reception turned incompletion after the review in the second half. Actually, that shouldn't even have been an issue. You need to have a couple "possible pending challenge plays" in your pocket ready to go for situations like that. The team hustles to the line and prepares to run a play and at least you force the opposing coach to throw a challenge flag before he has the luxury of hearing from an assistant who has carefully viewed all replays.

Instead because you didn't have matching personnel and play call, you called a timeout that made it easy for coach Lovie to throw a risk-free challenge flag, which eventually negated what would have been an almost 20-yard reception and a first down near midfield. Not good.

And what was the deal with that last timeout as Robbie Gould was unleashing a mediocre initial onside kick (it landed way too far within the Raiders' coverage unit)? You may have been trying to freeze Gould (but you really shouldn't do that unless it is a late field goal) or you may have felt your team wasn't quite ready for the play but what you did was give Gould a nice little practice kick.

Sure enough, Gould's second effort was about as good as an expected onside kick can be, enabling Charles Tillman to crash into the Raider who was attempting to catch it just as the ball arrived and making it a free-for-all for possession. Jackson caught a huge break when his team came up with the ball anyway.

Finally, what the hell, Caleb?

"It's not like delayed spikes are only an NFL rule," Chris Chase writes for Yahoo!. "The same interpretation applies at the high school and college levels, so Hanie doesn't have an excuse."

See also:: The Official NFL GameDay Highlights.


Comments welcome.

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