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The Bears were getting used to having their quarterback taking great care of the ball. Jay Cutler had thrown only seven interceptions in his 10 games this season, which made Caleb Hanie's three first-half interceptions Sunday all the more infuriating to a fan base that fears its team might let a spot in the playoffs slip away while Cutler is recovering from surgery to repair the thumb he broke last week.
Hanie's miscues were costly, but not surprising given the circumstances. He was making the first start of his career on the road, and questionable decision making always has been part of the scouting report on him.
The question that matters Monday is, will he learn from his performance in Oakland and make his second career start a much cleaner showing?
Head coach Lovie Smith indicated that he expects dramatic improvement from Hanie next week at home against the Chiefs.
Dramatic improvement would be nice, but the Bears might not need that much from Hanie against Kansas City. The Chiefs have quarterback issues of their own. They have scored one touchdown in their last 16 quarters and are scoring only 6.25 points over their last four games.
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The Bears' defense showed Sunday that it's only going to take a little bit more playmaking, and a little bit less as far as turnovers, from Hanie to win games against so-so competition. The Bears stayed with the Raiders — the team leading the AFC West — on the road throughout the game and had a chance to win. Oakland led by five at halftime, despite the three Hanie interceptions, including a red-zone pick that resulted in a six-point swing (the Bears were in field-goal range and the Raiders turned the turnover into three points).
Hanie took better care of the ball in the second half, but the Raiders held on to win, 25-20.
We didn't learn much that we didn't already know about Hanie. He can make plays with his legs, and did just that on Sunday, rushing five times for 50 yards. He also has a good-enough arm to get the ball downfield and pick up yards in chunks. He showed that when he completed a bomb to WR Johnny Knox for an 81-yard gain.
It's on Hanie to build on his first start and do a better job of knowing when not to make a certain throw. If offensive coordinator Mike Martz leans more heavily on RBs Matt Forté and Marion Barber — who combined for 22 carries and 122 yards on Sunday — and is creative with his play-calling without losing sight of Hanie's abilities, he can give Hanie a bit more help.
It has to be encouraging for the Bears to walk away from Sunday's loss having a better sense of what it will take to win without Cutler and knowing that it's not beyond them to do so.