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Tale of the Tape, Hanie-mentum Edition: 2010 NFC Championship

I vowed to myself sometime right around when B.J. Raji was five yards short of the end zone that I would simply pretend the game never happened. While this approach has helped to preserve the sliver of sanity the Bears haven't already taken from me, with Caleb Hanie once again getting the chance to become the mustached version of Kyle Orton, however, there was just no way around it. We've all heard the "Hanie was able to put us one touchdown short of the Super Bowl" assessment of him, but follow me below the fold to get a breakdown of his strengths, weaknesses, and how Martz handled the change. Onwards!

The first shot we saw of number 12 was telling. After they announced he was replacing Todd Collins, we see Hanie warming up on the sideline. He takes a snap from Olin Kreutz, drops three steps, and hands off the ball to the invisible Matt Forte next to him. Martz, of course, wouldn't let even a second change of quarterbacks temper what must be his constant temptation to call a pass. The first pass Martz called, however, was just what Hanie and the offense needed to get going: with the Packers loading up the box expecting the run, Forte swung out into the flat and played a quick round of catch with Hanie to pick up some nice yards after the catch. Hanie wasn't shy to get into the mix himself, running it on a failed bootleg and dropping his shoulder to turn a failed play into a three yard gain. With the Packers still loaded for only one Bear - Forte - Hanie got his chance. He found Johnny Knox in tight coverage about fifteen yards downfield, threw the ball just where it needed to be, and Knox was able to catch the football in stride and go in for what looked to me on the replay to be a touchdown. Lovie apparently thought otherwise and held on to his challenge flag, but Chester Taylor rumbled in on the next play for the Bears' first points of the day. It wasn't the prettiest of drives, but when teams sell out to defend the run, one good pass is all it can take to get over the top of the coverage and make big plays.

If the first drive was the good, the next couple of drives were the bad and ugly. While I was consistently impressed how Hanie stood in the pocket with blitzing Packers closing in, he wasn't able to make the quick throws to take advantage of the diminished coverage. On one blitz, Hanie made the understandable mistake of taking his eyes off of his receivers to peek at the defensive back coming free around the corner. He still was able to get rid of the ball and avoid the sack, but he might have been able to get rid of the ball to someone if he kept his eyes downfield. This drive ended with Hanie once again feeling the Packers pressure and getting a quick pass off to Earl Bennett. The pass, however, was off its mark enough that all Bennett could do was catch it on his way to the ground - a more accurate throw and he could have worked his way upfield for first down yardage. The next drive was the real back-breaker for the Bears, and the only way I can describe Hanie's perfect pass to B.J. Raji is that it was a rookie mistake. While it's understandable he didn't expect Raji to drop into coverage, he should have been able to see that Matt Forte was not open on the pass and continued his progression or thrown the ball away.

The biggest positive for Hanie, at least in my estimation, is that he didn't get gun-shy after the pick. The Bears, after all, were still in the game, and Hanie or Martz didn't back away from their downfield attack despite the danger. Hanie made a lovely twelve yard throw to Greg Olsen to start off his next drive, trusting that Olsen would be where he needed to be even though he hadn't come clean when the throw was released. Hanie continued to quickly dink and dunk his way down the field, running the no-huddle offense with surprising confidence. Once again, Hanie showed us that sometimes all you need is one good pass on a drive to convert it into points. Making up for his bad pass to Bennett earlier in the game, Hanie put the ball where only Bennett could get it on a fifteen yard out pattern, and Earl did the rest: he dodged one tackle, sped his way past Charles Woodson to the end zone, and made it a game again. The next - and last - drive of the game, however, did not end as perfectly. Hanie had to throw it away on first down, and took Forte on the out route to salvage something out of another round of heavy pressure. Hanie did step it up on third down, however, throwing a Cutler-esque bullet to Greg Olsen to get the first down.

While Martz certainly called the game to help protect poor Caleb, the playbook was open. Yes, there were screen passes and lots of dump-off passes to Matt Forte on this last drive, but there were some pure passing plays mixed in. While Hanie didn't make the most of them on this final drive - racking up a throw-away incompletion and a whopping seven yards on an outlet pass to Greg Olsen - Martz will give him his shots and hope for the best. Then again, Martz will also call handoffs to wide receivers on third and three that go for a loss of two. Hanie can't be blamed for his second interception - on fourth down, you might as well just throw it up and hope for the best - but he put in what was arguably the best performance of any of the four quarterbacks that took a snap in this game. While he the one thing you just can't do on a Lovie Smith team - throw interceptions that lead to points for the other team - he also showed that he can at least hang around with the big boys.

Yes, we lost the game, and, no, Hanie is not a miracle quarterback who will single-handedly win us games like Jay Cutler can. But at the end of the day, here's the important thing: from his first day as a head coach, Lovie Smith has built his teams to win games by taking the ball away and killing you with special teams. Just like they did in the NFCC, the D can keep us in games even if when Hanie makes mistakes. If I was going to summarize Hanie in a word, it would be "adequate," but he has what it takes to be a winning quarterback on a Lovie Smith team. Having gotten used to seeing a real, honest-to-goodness NFL quarterback in Jay Cutler, it might be hard to go back to the "Rex is our quarterback" days of old. After rewatching the tape, however, I feel the Hanie-mentum. Winning ugly, after all, is the Bears way.