Even though quarterback Jay Cutler's concussion is only expected to keep him out for one week, the Bears have to hope that backup Todd Collins can recapture the magic he flashed the last time he rode to the rescue of an injured starter.
Near the end of the 2007 season, the 6-4, 223-pound Collins took over for Jason Campbell and led the Redskins to four straight victories and a spot in the playoffs. After Campbell suffered a season-ending knee injury in a Week 14 game at FedEx Field against the Bears, Collins relieved and completed 15 of 20 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns without an interception in a 24-16 Washington victory.
"I thought someone would remind us of it," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Todd remembers it well, too, and we do. We got a chance to see him come into a game, and he played a great game against us and led his team to victory. Hopefully, that's still there and he can do the same for us now on the other side."
Starting and winning the final three games in '07, Collins compiled a 106.4 passer rating, throwing five touchdown passes and no interceptions. Amazingly, those final three starts in the 2007 regular season were the first for Collins in 10 years, but he says he can benefit from that experience as he prepares for Sunday's game against the Panthers in Charlotte.
"It helps," he said. "I've been around for a while. It's a team game, but I look forward to going out there and doing my part and contributing to a victory."
In between his three starts in 2007 with the Redskins and 13 starts in 1997 with the Buffalo Bills, Collins threw a total of just 27 passes in nine seasons. In five of those seasons, he didn't throw a single pass in a game.
"It's pretty tough," the 38-year-old Collins said. "There have been some long stretches being the backup guy when I didn't get a chance. You've just got to stay consistent and disciplined in your preparation year to year and week to week because, when you get a call like this, you can't let your skills diminish or not stay up with the game plan every week."
Despite Collins' late-season heroics in 2007, the starting job went back to Campbell the following season. Collins didn't see any game action in '08 but played in three games for the Redskins last season, completing 12 of 23 passes for 144 yards and a passer rating of 71.6. After relieving Cutler last week at halftime, Collins completed 4 of 11 passes for 36 yards and an interception before he was knocked from the game with a neck stinger.
"I played poorly, and we lost the game," said Collins, who finished the night with an 8.1 passer rating. Caleb Hanie finished up for the Bears, completing 3 of 4 passes for 36 yards.
Hanie is in his third season with the Bears. Collins wasn't signed until Aug. 23, as insurance after Hanie suffered a sprained right shoulder in the preseason opener. Bears coaches believe that Collins' NFL game experience, even though it's been spread out over 16 years, gives him an edge over Hanie as the starter.
"Todd is a guy that has played a great deal and won," said offensive coordinator Mike Martz, "and played exceptionally well this summer. We know what he is. He demonstrated in the preseason that he could play at a high level. It's just a question of getting him a little bit more familiar."
With Cutler out, Hanie is, at least for a week, back to second on the depth chart. But, barring any additional injuries or a setback for Cutler, he'll be back in the three hole next week.
"Caleb easily could be No. 2 right now," Martz said. "But because of the experience and being in this competitive situation and knowing how to respond and managing the game, these are going to be things that are all a little bit new for Caleb, alright? We know, at least I feel good about Todd in those pressure situations, and we anticipate him managing the game very well. That's why he is the No. 2, and that's just kind of how we feel about them."
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