Caleb Hanie knows he's not the savior for this team, just a temporary solution. In place of the injured Jay Cutler – who had successful surgery today on his thumb and could resume throwing in as few as three weeks – Hanie will make the first start of his NFL career this Sunday.
For the remainder of the regular season, it will be his job to help guide this team into the playoffs. It's a tall task for a former undrafted free agent that has thrown just 14 regular-season passes in his three-and-a-half years in the league. Luckily he has one of the best running backs in the league behind him in Matt Forte, as well as a defense and special teams playing at an elite level.
"I'm being asked to come and keep the offensive momentum going the way it is," said Hanie. "It's not like we're struggling offensively where I've got to come in and make all these plays and save the season and start winning some games. We're on a good roll and we have momentum. As long as I do the things I need to do, and get the ball to the guys that make plays, that's my main job."
QB Caleb Hanie
Hanie is now in his second year in coordinator Mike Martz's system, which should provide him a level of comfort with the play calling and reads while on the field.
"I'm a lot more comfortable," said Hanie. "Having a year in this offense previous to this one is a huge help. Jay will tell you. You've seen the progression of his game this year. So I'm looking to have the same type of results."
Hanie performed well in the second half of last year's NFC Championship, nearly leading the Bears to a comeback victory over the Green Bay Packers. His teammates still remember that performance.
"We've seen what he can do in the NFC Championship game, to be able to step up in that short notice and come out and be as successful as he was," said Anthony Adams. "I think that speaks volumes of his character and the type of person he is. We're going to rally behind him but also at the same time we know we've got to step it up to."
More than Hanie, it will be up the defense, special teams and rushing attack to carry the club into the postseason. It's likely Hanie won't be asked to do too much, just to manage the game and not make any big mistakes. Yet Hanie, who becomes a free agent after this season, doesn't like the "game manager" label.
"Yeah, I definitely don't want to be known as a game manager around the league," said Hanie. "I feel like that just cements you in a backup role or a fill-in role for the rest of your career. I'm going to go try to make plays. I'm not going to play scared."
Expect some bumps in the road due to his inexperience but the Colorado State product doesn't appear daunted by the task ahead of him.
"We saw a glimpse of what he has, and a glimpse of what he can do last year," Roberto Garza said. "We're excited to step onto the field and have him as our quarterback. Obviously we like Jay, and he's our No. 1 quarterback, but for the time being, Caleb's going to fill those roles, and fill those shoes, and go out there and win us some games."
If Hanie could help the team to a 3-3 record over the next six weeks, that should be good enough to earn the Bears a wild card spot in the NFC.
"I feel real confident in the way that I play in this offense," said Hanie. "As long as I stay within myself in the offense I think we'll be successful and keep the explosiveness that we need."
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com and a member of the Pro Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.