Bears losses not solely on Hanie

Chicago has lost three straight to fall to 7-6, yet not all of the blame belongs to Caleb Hanie. We also discuss Cutler's thumb, Kahlil Bell's recent contributions on offense and more.

It's not entirely backup quarterback Caleb Hanie's fault that the 7-6 Bears have lost all three of his starts - not by a long shot.

But the offense has scored just one touchdown in the last eight quarters and converted 2-of-26 third downs during that time, and the quarterback always gets more blame for losses and more credit for wins.

Publicly at least, Hanie still has the confidence of the locker room. But another loss would virtually eliminate the Bears from the postseason picture.

"As an offense, we left a lot of plays out there," center Roberto Garza said of the most recent loss, in overtime to the Broncos. "We have to execute, and we have to get the little things right to get this thing turned around. We've been in every game, and he can certainly get better, but he's not the only guy who needs to play better. We all do; we have to protect him.

"We're in the hunt. We're outside looking in, but anything's possible, and it starts with winning one football game."

Being at home should help, since the Bears are 5-2 at Soldier Field. But the 6-7 Seahawks have won four of their last five games, including their last two, when they outscored the Eagles and Rams 61-27, although both of those games were at home.

If nothing else, the past three weeks have been a learning experience for the beleaguered Hanie.

One lesson stands out: "That wins are tough to come by," said Hanie, who's 0-3 as a starter since Jay Cutler went down with a fractured and dislocated thumb. "They don't hand them out. And the plays that are out there, they have to be made. There are excuses that you can make, but that's all they are, is excuses. It doesn't get the job done. It's been a learning experience, and I'm getting in a groove a little bit more and more each week, and hopefully we can just keep improving and keep pounding away and things will turn our way."

Although Hanie completed 12 of his 19 passes Sunday, he'd like to have at least one of the incompletions back.

"There was a third-and-10. It was Marion out of the backfield, and I just missed him," Hanie said. "It was a big play. It was there for the taking, and I just missed him. Those are the things that are magnified when you lose. I own that play; I own all the passes that I miss. I've just got to hit it."

Last Sunday was the first time Hanie completed more than 50 percent of his passes, and his personal-best passer rating of 79.9 was satisfactory, but he didn't complete any passes of 20 yards or longer, he was sacked four times and the offense failed in 13 of 15 third-down situations.

The fourth-year quarterback would have to be living in a vacuum not to hear the criticisms of him and the offense, but he said he'd soldier on.

"I don't need a pat on the back after losses and stuff," Hanie said, "but it doesn't hurt.

"I'd love to be 3-0. I'm trying to do the best I can out there during the week and on the field. I haven't gotten the job done so far, but I'm confident that if I keep plugging away that I'll make the plays that put us over the hump. We're trying to push through."

--Quarterback Jay Cutler lobbed some passes before last Sunday's game in Denver, but he still has a long way to go in his rehab from thumb surgery.

"I think it was more pushing than throwing," Cutler said Wednesday morning on the Waddle and Silvy Show on ESPN Radio. "It was more of a shot put in my hands than anything. We'll see how it feels this week and try to get better and better each day."

His surgeon, Dr. Viola of Vail, Colo., evaluated Cutler's thumb on Sunday and was satisfied with the progress. But throwing for the first time in three weeks felt somewhat awkward.

"It's kind of like trying to relearn it," Cutler said. "The ball was a little bit foreign in my hands and it was a little bit stiff, and with those pins in there, that kind of adds a little bit of a shooting pain. We just have to figure out once all the swelling's gone whether or not I can manage with these pins in or we're going to have to pull them."

Asked about his chances of playing Christmas Day in Green Bay, Cutler was unsure.

"I wouldn't say it's good or definite or even a real possibility," he said. "There's always a chance."

--With Matt Forte out, No. 3 tailback Kahlil Bell has rushed for 74 yards on 13 carries in the past two games, a 5.7-yard average.

He is not expected to leapfrog Marion Barber on the depth chart, but has probably earned more touches this week.

"We're comfortable with a veteran (Barber), but we've been pleased with what (Bell) has done," coach Lovie Smith said. "He's done a good job when he's got an opportunity. He can catch the ball out of the backfield, he can make you miss in the open field. Hopefully we'll be able to get him a couple more carries."

PLAYER NOTES

--CB Charles Tillman, who had his second interception of the season last week, has two forced fumbles in four games vs. the Seahawks. Tillman (knee) was limited at Wednesday's practice but will play Sunday.

--WR Devin Hester has averaged 18.4 yards on eight career punt returns vs. the Seahawks, including an 89-yard TD. He's also averaged 29.0 yards on four kickoff returns.

--WR Johnny Knox is averaging 19.8 yards on 36 receptions but has just two touchdown catches.

--WR Earl Bennett has two catches for 10 yards in three games with Caleb Hanie at quarterback.

--P Adam Podlesh's 40.6 net average over a full season would be the highest in franchise history.

INJURY IMPACT

--RB Matt Forte (sprained right MCL) has not been ruled out this week, but he will not play on Sunday.

--QB Jay Cutler (fractured right thumb) is out this week.

--DT Henry Melton (shin) did not practice Wednesday but is expected to play Sunday.

--LB Lance Briggs (not injury related) did not practice Wednesday but will play Sunday.

--LG Edwin Williams (calf) was limited at practice but is expected to play Sunday.

--S Major Wright (shoulder) was limited at practice Wednesday but is expected to play Sunday.

GAME PLAN

Last week the Bears tried taking things out of QB Caleb Hanie's hands and just asking him to manage the game. That formula worked wonderfully - for almost four quarters, until the ball-control run attack (specifically Marion Barber) committed two fatal mistakes that helped blow a late, 10-0 lead. Still, the Bears will continue to emphasize the run game, possibly with more input from backup Kahlil Bell, who has been impressive the past two weeks after finally getting a chance.

On defense the Bears must tame the beast that is Marshawn Lynch, who has come on strong after a slow start. If Lynch can knock the defense back on its heels, Tarvaris Jackson can be effective. If Lynch is shut down, the Bears do not believe Jackson can beat them throwing the ball. Despite problems in other areas, the Bears have been solid since mid-season when it comes to stopping the run.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

Bears MLB Brian Urlacher, who was credited with 15 tackles in Week 14 against the Broncos, vs. Seahawks RB Marshawn Lynch, who has rushed for 854 yards and eight touchdowns.

Bears QB Caleb Hanie, who has thrown six interceptions in his three starts, vs. Seahawks CB Brandon Browner, who leads the Seahawks with five interceptions and 178 interception return yards, but has been penalized 13 times, the most of any player in the league.

SERIES HISTORY

13th regular-season meeting. Seahawks lead series, 8-4. The Bears lost 23-20 in the regular season last year, but turned the tables with a 35-24 victory in a divisional playoff game. Both games were at Soldier Field.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Number of third downs that the Bears have converted in 26 chances over the past two games. The Bears were 0-for-12 on third-down conversions against the Seahawks in a 23-20 loss with Jay Cutler at quarterback last season.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "He's getting better. There's no question he's getting better. He's getting a better feel for the game. The more he plays, the better he's going to get. He's going to have a long career in this game. He's basically a rookie learning as he goes." -- Bears offensive coordinator Mike Martz on Caleb Hanie's play.


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