Bears-Raiders Preview

The Chicago Bears have been playing as well as just about any

team in the league over the past month, but it now appears a thumb

injury will keep Jay Cutler sidelined for the next several


The Oakland Raiders experienced a similar setback last month

when Jason Campbell suffered a broken collarbone. But while the

Bears are turning to an unproven quarterback to lead them down the

stretch, the Raiders perhaps upgraded, handing the offense to a

two-time Pro Bowler.

Caleb Hanie will make his first NFL start for surging Chicago on

Sunday when they visit Carson Palmer and AFC West-leading


A five-game winning streak has helped the Bears (7-3) move into

possession of one of the NFC’s wild-card spots, but making the

playoffs could be tough.

Cutler fractured the thumb on his right throwing hand while

trying to make a tackle on an interception return in the fourth

quarter of last Sunday’s 31-20 victory over San Diego. Bears

general manager Jerry Angelo said team doctors believe Cutler, who

had totaled eight touchdowns and three interceptions during the

winning streak, has a chance of getting back on the field before

Chicago’s regular-season finale in Minnesota on New Year’s Day.

In the meantime, the Bears, who haven’t won six straight games

since opening the 2006 season 7-0, will turn to Hanie.

Although Hanie has yet to attempt a pass this year, he came up

with an inspiring performance in last season’s 21-14 loss to Green

Bay in the NFC championship game. Playing for an injured Cutler,

Hanie led the Bears to two touchdowns and finished 13 for 20 for

153 yards with one TD and two interceptions.

Hanie, who’ll be facing an Oakland defense that is tied for

sixth in the NFL with 28 sacks, says he won’t played scared, won’t

be ultra-conservative and won’t play dumb in his first NFL


“I know where I am in the offense, I know what I’m doing in this

offense. I’ve been waiting for this opportunity,” he said.

The Bears certainly hope Hanie’s first start goes better than

Palmer’s first game of the season.

Two days after Campbell’s injury, Oakland (6-4) acquired Palmer

from Cincinnati. He appeared in the Raiders’ very next game and

threw three interceptions.

With time, Palmer has become much more proficient in the

offense, averaging 265.0 yards with six touchdowns and four

interceptions in the last three games for a 102.2 passer rating,

helping lead the Raiders to sole possession of first place in their


“Every chance I get to go on the field, whether it’s practice or

games, I feel more comfortable with it,” Palmer said after last

Sunday’s 27-21 win in Minnesota.

Although Palmer is more familiar with the offense, he is running

out of people to throw to.

The Raiders, losers of two straight in Oakland, are down to

three healthy receivers in Chaz Schilens, Louis Murphy and rookie

Eddie McGee, who is on the team’s practice squad. The status of

Denarius Moore, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Jacoby Ford and Darrius

Heyward-Bey are uncertain.

Heyward-Bey ran patterns and caught passes from Palmer during a

light non-contact drill Friday and also took part in some team


”It makes it difficult,” Palmer said of the injury-plagued

receivers. ”You don’t get the same guys on the field from the week

before, that rhythm and timing thing slows down a little bit. So we

have our work cut out for us.”

Oakland is also unsure if star running back Darren McFadden will

play after missing the last three games with a right foot sprain,

but backup Michael Bush has proven to be an adequate


Bush has rushed for 461 yards in the last four games but will be

facing a Chicago defense that is allowing an NFL-low 66.8 rushing

yards over the last six weeks.

This defense, which is tied for second in the NFL with 23

turnovers, is one of several reasons the Bears feel they can still

reach the postseason despite Cutler’s injury. A return game

featuring the dangerous Devin Hester and an offense revolving

around running back Matt Forte, who leads the league with 1,391

yards from scrimmage, has Chicago believing the playoffs are still

very realistic.

“I wish it wasn’t the issue, but I think you look at the way

we’re set up, in my mind, we’re still a defensive team and (on)

special teams, we can score at any time, which is a good thing,”

Brian Urlacher said. “We run the ball this year better than we have

in years past, I think, so that helps our whole situation when you

can do that and turn to a guy like Matt and your offensive line and

say, ‘Hey, we need to run the football.'”

Forte is tied for the league lead with 11 runs of at least 20

yards, while Oakland has allowed an NFL-worst 15 such runs.

The Bears might also be able to move the ball simply by

Oakland’s mistakes.

The Raiders have already committed 17 defensive personal fouls

this season – more than double the total of 29 teams and most in

the league since the Chiefs had 19 in 1998.

“We’ve got better players than we had in the past,” defensive

tackle Tommy Kelly said. “But we’re also making the job a lot

harder than we have to. We say that to ourselves a lot on the

sideline. But in the end all you’ve got to do is win the


These teams haven’t met since Chicago’s 17-6 win in Oakland on

Nov. 11, 2007.