Generally, I'm not in favor of promoting untested players solely for the purpose of evaluation. There should be a justifiable reason for getting that player on the field. None of us have seen rookie quarterback Nathan Enderle in practice, or for that matter veteran Josh McCown. So we can't say that either player has demonstrated a capacity for better performance than current starter Caleb Hanie. On the other hand, prolonging failure based on the perceived lack of a better option isn't healthy, either. So after watching Hanie flail for a full four games, I think it would be reasonable to consider other options. And even though the Bears are still technically in the playoff race, it would be incredibly short-sighted to start McCown against the Green Bay Packers next Sunday night. McCown is the shortest of short-term backups. Hanie might have played himself off the 2012 roster, and Enderle's pedigree as a fifth-round draft choice suggests he should be in the mix for the No. 2 role. McCown is not, but he could always rescue Enderle if the rookie proves to be in over his head.
If you're an eternal optimist, you could use ESPN.com's Playoff Machine to find how the Bears could still make the playoffs. First, they would have to defeat both the Packers and Minnesota Vikings, on the road, without running back Matt Forte and receiver Johnny Knox and, probably, quarterback Jay Cutler. Then they would need the Atlanta Falcons and Detroit Lions to lose their remaining games, and then hope to win some tiebreakers with the remaining field. The biggest obstacle would be finishing 2-0 themselves. They've lost four consecutive games in increasingly uncompetitive fashion and, as Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune points out, they've scored two offensive touchdowns in the past 188 minutes.
Lost in this four-game losing streak has been defensive end Julius Peppers' return to the double-digit sack club after a one-year absence. His sack/forced fumble in the end zone of Seahawks quarterback Tarvaris Jackson led to an Israel Idonije touchdown. Playing on a gimpy knee for much of the season, Peppers has 10 sacks, four pass knockdowns and three forced fumbles in 14 games. I have no idea how the voters will stack them for the Associated Press All-Pro team, but I would imagine Peppers is in the conversation for being one of the two defensive ends on the first team once again.
And here is one thing I still don't get:
Hanie has been with the organization for four years under two offensive coordinators. Did the Bears miss that badly on their evaluation of him? Has he choked under the pressure? Or is it a combination thereof? I realize Hanie didn't have much regular-season experience when he took over for Cutler, and not all of his mistakes have solely been his fault. But can you see any measure of improvement from his first start to his fourth? Me either. Progress is a fair expectation for a player who has spent nearly four years on an NFL roster. Even some rookies would have pulled the ball down upon finding Seahawks linebacker K.J. Wright closing in for a sack. Instead, Hanie inexplicably threw into the hands of defensive end Red Bryant for what turned out to be a touchdown. It's too bad, because Hanie is one of the nicest people in the Bears' locker room and someone who seemed to have received a career-changing break when Cutler was injured. Instead, it could be a career-ender.