Growing Up in a Hurry

Lake Forest - Bears quarterback Kyle Orton is starting to make people forget that he's a rookie.

After his most productive game as a pro Sunday, the 22-year-old has started one more NFL game than three-year veteran Rex Grossman, who was expected to be the team's franchise quarterback this season and last before injuries sidelined him. Orton has also won one more game than Grossman.

In the 19-13 victory over the Lions, Orton threw for a career-high 230 yards, 80 more than his previous best. His 7.42 yards per pass attempt also established a season best, and it was just the second time this year he's averaged more than 5.04.

"Kyle Orton played his best game," Bears coach Lovie Smith said after the fourth-round pick improved to 4-3 as a starter. "He made the big throws when we needed them. He threw the ball well."

Against the Lions, Orton completed four passes of more than 20 yards, the first time this season that's happened. And three receivers had catches for more than 20 yards, also a first. In earlier games, Orton played efficiently, managing games well enough for the defense and the running game to make the difference, but he rarely was able to stretch the field vertically. On Sunday, the Bears needed Orton to contribute some big plays, and he did.

"That's a part of the game that's been lacking," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "Everyone's been asking about it, and we kept saying, 'That's going to come.' We still have a long way to go, especially with our consistency, but we took a step."

The Bears entered last week ranked No. 30 in passing yards and average gain per pass play. But only nine quarterbacks threw for more yards than Orton did on Sunday, and six of them had at least one interception, while the Purdue product had none for the third time in the past four games.

"It felt great," he said. "It was a great game. Offensively, we started off well, and I threw the ball well."

On back-to-back scoring drives that used 23 plays, covered 168 yards and consumed the majority of the second quarter, Orton completed 8 of 10 passes for 148 yards.

"We just made plays when we had to," he said. "We finally made big plays in the passing game."

Among them were completions of 54, 16 and 13 yards to rookie Mark Bradley and a 23-yard TD to Muhsin Muhammad.

"That second quarter was good," Turner said. "He got a little confidence, and when somebody gets hot you want to go with them."

But with Bradley finished for the season because of a torn ACL he suffered on the 13-yard reception, Orton loses a player that he had only recently developed an on-field rapport with. However, Justin Gage, Bradley's replacement, had receptions of 25 and 22 yards after the injury.

"In the passing game, I think we're really close," Orton said. "That's the feeling I get coming out of this game. (Still), we left a lot of yards out on the field to be honest, but I think we're really close."

Orton still has not completely overcome a tendency to overthrow open receivers down the field, and a brief wild streak contributed to the offense managing just 117 yards in the second half Sunday. Even the TD pass to Muhammad was high and required the veteran Pro Bowler to make an outstanding play and take a big hit from the safety, but Orton threw the ball in about the only place he could to get the score.


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