OAKLAND, Calif. -- What looked like a debacle in the making turned out to be a hard-fought contest Sunday with the Bears' five-game winning streak coming to an end by virtue of a 25-20 loss to the Oakland Raiders.
No need to over-analyze this one. Undoubtedly, the three interceptions thrown by Caleb Hanie made the difference.
Despite the turnovers, Hanie displayed enough moxie to give the Bears at least a small level of comfort regarding his ability to lead them to wins in the absence of starting quarterback Jay Cutler.
Still, there will be questions about Hanie, the play calling, the running game and everything else.
We’ll cover a couple of those, in addition to pointing out some positives:
What it means: Chicago appears to have opened the door to the other contenders fighting for the two NFC wildcard playoff spots with the loss against the Raiders. The Bears own tiebreakers against the Detroit Lions and Atlanta Falcons -- both 7-4 -- but they missed out on an opportunity to solidify their standing. The New York Giants (6-4) face the New Orleans Saints on Monday night, and also have a shot at getting into the picture.
In addition, a victory in Hanie’s first start would have gone a long way toward the team building confidence he can get it done over the next few weeks with Cutler out with a broken thumb. Despite Hanie’s gutsy attempt to rally the Bears in the fourth quarter, it’s likely there are questions within the staff and locker room about the quarterback’s ability to carry them into the postseason.
Obviously the schedule sets up well with a home game Sunday against the Kansas City Chiefs, followed by matchups with the Denver Broncos, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings to close out the regular season. The expectation within the staff is that Cutler will be back for one of the two last regular-season contests.
So the team needs to know Hanie can carry them until that time.
Three in a row: Starting his second consecutive outing at nickel corner in place of D.J. Moore, who missed the game with an ankle injury, Corey Graham picked off his third pass in as many games in the first half.
Safety Brandon Meriweather tipped a Carson Palmer pass intended for Chaz Schilens with Graham coming up with the loose ball. The play only demonstrates that Graham -- one of the team’s best special teams players -- is also capable of stepping into a major role on defense.
Graham is playing on a one-year deal so it will be interesting to see what kinds of overtures the team will make to bring back Graham for 2012.
Penalties costly: Officials flagged the Bears four times for 40 yards in the first eight minutes of the game.
A holding penalty by Craig Steltz forced Chicago to start its first possession of the game on the 18. The Bears started their third drive of the contest on their own 16 as a result of a Zach Bowman holding penalty.
Once that drive started, a personal foul by Tyler Clutts killed a 17-yard scramble by Hanie. On the very next play, a J’Marcus Webb false-start penalty pushed the team back to its own 14.
The lost field position proved valuable because after the Webb penalty, Stanford Routt picked off a Hanie pass intended for Matt Forte. The Raiders gained a net of 2 yards on the ensuing drive with Sebastian Janikowski kicking a 47-yard field goal to help his team to a 6-0 lead.
Interestingly, the Raiders came into Sunday’s game as the league’s most penalized team. With 10 minutes left to play, the Bears had been flagged six times for 51 yards, while the Raiders committed just four penalties for 29 yards.
Catch it Jennings: It’s often said that defensive backs are failed receivers, and Bears cornerback Tim Jennings demonstrated why against the Eagles.
Jennings dropped at least two interceptions that could have led to Bears points.
What’s next: The Bears host the Chiefs on Sunday at Soldier Field.