Hanie needs to improve for Bears to have a chance

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(Eds: Updates. With AP Photos.)By RICK GANOAP Sports Writer

Caleb Hanie's still figuring it all out. And his three-game stint as the Chicago Bears starting quarterback has reinforced what he already knew.

It's a tough gig, challenging and demanding, especially when you have limited experience.

What makes his play even more critical as the season winds down is that what he does Sunday against Seattle will determine if his team has any shot at the playoffs. So far, the returns have not been encouraging: three starts and three losses.

''We've been in every game. He'll continue to get better, but obviously he's not the only guy that needs to play better,'' center Roberto Garza said Wednesday. ''We all do. We need to protect him.''

In the losses to Oakland, Kansas City and Denver, the Bears were able to convert only eight of their 40 third-down plays.

Hanie picked his game up a bit last week in wrenching 13-10 overtime loss in Denver, actually driving the Bears into position for a game-winning field goal before Marion Barber fumbled. He's completed nearly 52 percent of his passes with two touchdowns and six interceptions - three each in the first two games but none last week. And he's been sacked 15 times.

''What is unfair to him is we've been really holding off and waiting until third down to throw the ball,'' offensive coordinator Mike Martz said. ''People right now are going to blitz the heck out of him. So it's going to make him a little bit uneasy. ... He'll be all right.''

Hanie will have to be better Sunday when Seattle comes to Solider Field. The Seahawks, with four wins in five games, feature a young defense that has been tough against the run. Hanie will need to locate his receivers - especially Earl Bennett, who has just two catches the last three games - and get the ball to them consistently.

''We haven't been able to find Earl the last couple of weeks, for whatever reason. Teams have been keying on him. They know he's our third-down guy. He's our clutch guy,'' Hanie said. ''He's going to make tough catches and find ways to get open. We just got to find ways to keep getting him open and we've got to find ways to get in a position where we can use him.''

Chicago (7-6) and Seattle (6-7) both need a win to keep their NFC wild card hopes alive.

The Bears were able to run the ball against Denver with Barber gaining 108 yards but he went out bounds to stop the clock late in the game when the Broncos were out of timeout and then fumbled in overtime. Hanie could be seen on the sidelines giving some encouragement to Barber after his mistakes.

''It was something I felt like I needed to do. Marion's a professional. So I'm sure he doesn't need it and at the time he probably didn't want to hear it,'' Hanie said. ''He probably just wanted to think to himself at that moment. But you just gotta do what you gotta do sometimes. It might help him in the long run - hopefully.''

Hanie is hoping he'll be able to what he hasn't so far, the most important thing any quarterback can do, and that is win a game.

''I'd love to be 3-0,'' he said. ''I'm trying to do the best I can during the week and on the field. 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.''

And the changes have been many for him and his teammates since starter Jay Cutler broke his thumb trying to make a tackle after an interception against San Diego on Nov. 20. Coach Lovie Smith said Cutler and running back Matt Forte (sprained knee) continue to make progress from their injuries, but it is unclear if they will play again this season.

So the focus is on Hanie.

''It's not just the quarterback changing for the other. It's everybody getting used to everybody. Everybody getting used to me. Me getting used to everybody,'' Hanie said.

''Playing in an NFL game, four quarters. Getting used to that. Seeing all the different looks. Making all the plays that need to be made. Being sharp on every single pass. It's a tough game. And quarterback's a tough position. But it's fun. And it's fun when you make plays and get the glory of winning the game. But you've got to deal with some of these losses, too. And that's part of being a quarterback as well.''

Tagged: Bears, Marion Barber, Earl Bennett, Caleb Hanie

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