Experience may be a good teacher, but it's not an easy one, as new Bears quarterback Caleb Hanie learned Sunday afternoon against the Raiders.
In his first NFL start, Hanie threw three interceptions in the first half, which helped put the Bears in a hole deep enough that they couldn't recover despite a valiant fourth-quarter rally. They had the ball with a chance to win before time expired in their 25-20 loss to the NFC West leaders.
The defeat brought the Bears' five-game win streak to a halt but left them at 7-4 and in a three-way tie with the Lions and Falcons for the two wild-card playoff spots in the NFC. The 6-4 Giants play the 7-3 Saints Monday night.
The Bears aren't overly concerned about Hanie's first start, but they hope he can get to the point of managing games down the stretch and guide the team into the playoffs where, hopefully, Jay Cutler can return from Wednesday's surgery on his fractured thumb.
QB Caleb Hanie
Jason O. Watson/US Presswire
"I just feel bad that I had to go through the mistakes that quarterbacks go through when we're 5-0," Hanie said. "It's just not a good time to have a learning experience in my opinion, but it is what it is, and I just have to get better."
Asked his overall impression of his performance, Hanie said: "Not good. When you have that many turnovers, you're not going to win many games."
The Bears were hoping Hanie could "manage" the offense well enough to keep their win streak intact, but growing pains are inevitable. The interceptions were not unexpected but still unfortunate.
"You would like for it not to happen, but you could say that's (inevitable)," coach Lovie Smith said. "It's tough coming in your first game. Just think about starting the season. You have some mistakes that you won't have later in the year. But we have a small (learning) curve. We have to get it down as soon as we possibly can. I saw enough for us to build off. Next week you'll see better play from the quarterback position."
Considering the shaky start, Hanie's bounce-back provided some hope for the future, while the Bears wait for Cutler's fractured right thumb to heal. Hanie was sacked four times for 25 yards in losses, but he flashed his athleticism and mobility by running for 50 yards on five other occasions when he was chased from the pocket.
The Bears certainly have not soured on Matt Forte, who through 11 weeks was leading the NFL in yards from scrimmage. But Marion Barber is playing a bigger role in the run game as a complement to Forte. Barber had by far his most productive game of the season against the Raiders, rushing 10 times for 63 yards.
For the second time in four weeks, nose tackle Anthony Adams was a healthy inactive Sunday night. He has lost playing time to Matt Toeaina, who was the opening-day starter but whose production was slowed midseason by a sprained knee. Toeaina started for the first time in three weeks vs. the Raiders and was instrumental in limiting their run game to 73 yards on 27 attempts, a 2.7-yard average.
--WR Johnny Knox had a career-best 145 receiving yards on just four catches, including an 81-yard gain and a 29-yard TD reception. He could have had a monster day were it not for 2-3 drops of shorter passes.
--QB Caleb Hanie overcame a rocky, three-interception first half in his first NFL start and completed 18 of 36 passes for 254 yards, two touchdowns and a 56.9 passer rating. He rushed five times for 50 yards.
--DE Julius Peppers had two sacks and now has eight for the season including six in his last six games.
--RB Marion Barber had his biggest day as a Bear with 10 carries for 63 yards.
--TE Kellen Davis had two catches for 25 yards, including a nine-yard TD. He has just 12 catches all season, but four have been for touchdowns.
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