Where the injuries are mounting, and the hope is quickly getting scarce.
Fans in Chicago have come to peace with the fact that Jay Cutler is gone for the season. What they haven’t come to terms with yet is that their quarterback is now Caleb Hanie, the fourth-year pivot who had only attempted 27 career passes before stepping in for Cutler.
Hanie has thrown three interceptions while completing only 48.3 percent of his passes during his two starts. That’s Blaine Gabbert territory.
It was only two weeks ago when I used Hanie’s performance in last year’s NFC title game as a seed for optimism, writing that he just needed to do his best Alex Smith impression, effectively managing a game with the aid of a strong defense and running game, and making the odd key throw. But Matt Forte needed to be Frank Gore to Hanie’s Smith, and now he’s gone for a few weeks and maybe the rest of the regular season, and Marion Barber is no Kendall Hunter.
Earlier this morning ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported that an MRI on the knee injury Forte sustained yesterday confirmed the initial diagnosis of a Grade 2 MCL sprain, with no damage to the ACL. The injury isn’t serious, but the date on the calendar is, because if this were a month ago we’d be discussing Barber’s ability to be adequate for a few weeks while helping the Bears to at least stay within reach during the playoff race.
Instead it’s early December. There are four games left on the schedule, and Forte could miss anywhere between two and six weeks. We just jiggled around some beads on our abacus, and that math sucks.
Although some reports have Forte’s maximum recovery time pegged at four weeks, that still takes the Bears’ backfield to the end of the season with Barber as the primary key-holder. Head coach Lovie Smith remains optimistic, perhaps in an attempt to keep his team’s beaten spirits alive and well after three straight losses. At his press conference today Smith said Forte “looked pretty good this morning,” and that he still expects his regular starting RB to return this season.
Barber’s been used mostly in short yardage and goal-line situations, and he hasn’t been exposed to the pounding of a heavy workload yet this season. Previously when he’s faced that pounding he hasn’t responded well, playing in only two full 16-game seasons during his six years in the league prior to 2011.
Beyond Barber, Kahlil Bell is also an option after he had 34 yards on four carries during yesterday’s loss to Kansas City, but there’s clearly risk involved when a running back who’s received only 15 career carries sees a swift increase in his workload. Chicago is fifth in the NFC and currently in possession of a wild-card spot, but the Falcons and Lions have the same 7-5 record as the Bears, and the Giants are just one game behind at 6-6.
Three of Chicago’s final four games are on the road, and the four run defenses lined up (@Denver, vs. Seattle, @Green Bay, @Minnesota) are allowing only a combined 108.5 rushing yards per game. Toss in the strong possibility of a leisurely recovery by Forte because he still hasn’t been paid, and the lack of a passing threat presented by Hanie, and it could be another long, cold winter in Chicago.
Devin Hester thinks that signing Donovan McNabb would be a “waste of time“. Sorry, Devin, but that flare may have to be fired. He might not be better than Hanie, but McNabb can’t be much worse, and Mike Martz is too stubborn to dramatically change an offense that’s designed for a much stronger passer, and a much stronger running game.
Sadly, McNabb may be the only option left.