It was an unusually eventful week at Halas Hall leading up to a rather perfunctory game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday at Soldier Field. Here's a capsule review of what happened:
1. Jay Cutler says he might be out for the season.
''I've got to be smart about it,'' Cutler told the media Wednesday. ''I want to play next weekend if they'd let me, but I don't think that's going to be in the cards. It could be that I'm done for the season. I don't know. I just have to be smart about it. I have to realize there is a long-term picture. And at the same time I want to be out there and my teammates want me to be out there.''
That the Bears have avoided providing the details of Cutler's broken thumb has blurred a distinction that could have a monumental impact on their season: If Caleb Hanie only has to get the Bears into the playoffs, it's all good, or should be. If it's Hanie-or-bust in the postseason, that changes things.
At this point of the season, would Donovan McNabb not be a better option than Hanie if Cutler is out for the season? It's hard to argue with those who claim McNabb is washed up. And when's the last time a washed-up or flat-out mediocre quarterback has ever won a Super Bowl -- besides Brad Johnson, Trent Dilfer, Mark Rypien, Jeff Hostetler, Doug Williams, Jim Plunkett, or Joe Theismann, that is?
The point is, the McNabb option, no matter how ill-advised it might look right now, becomes a little more palatable if Cutler is out for the season. His playoff experience alone enhances his value vs. Hanie in a postseason scenario. Something to consider as Cutler continues his rehabilitation.
2. Caleb Hanie should be better in his second NFL start.
So many factors are in Hanie's favor against the Chiefs on Sunday, there is almost too much anticipation of an improved effort by the fourth-year quarterback from Colorado State. He's playing at home; He had a 97.0 passer rating in the second half against the Raiders last week; the Chiefs have only 13 sacks in 11 games -- barely more than the Raiders had in two games prior to facing the Bears.
''I feel lot more confident now watching the film,'' Hanie said this week. ''Being that it was my first game, I needed to just breathe, let everything hang out, especially at the beginning. I feel like I did that after the first quarter.
''Jay [Cutler] and Shane [Day, the Bears' quarterbacks coach] did a good job helping me through that initial process. Now, I think I'm good to go. So, no excuses this week.''
3. Mike Martz defends ill-fated play-call vs. Raiders, insists he's putting Hanie in the best position to succeed.
The Bears offensive coordinator said he ''didn't think twice'' about the throwback screen that turned into a momentum-changing interception and 73-yard return late in the first half.
''No. Shoot, I've thrown that for 20 years and it's never been anything but a good play. We didn't execute it very well,'' Martz said. ''And the ball got tipped. When you throw a screen and the ball gets tipped -- screens aren't hard. It's just something that happened, really.''
But even Cutler hinted that Martz might have thrown too much at a quarterback in his first NFL start.
''We've just got to be really careful what kind of situations we put him in,'' Cutler said. ''Mike's got be careful with that. We don't really know what Caleb's comfortable with; Caleb doesn't know what he's comfortable with. He hasn't run a lot of these plays, hasn't run a lot of this stuff in the offense in game situations, in high-pressure situations.
''We've just got to take care of him. That second half was night-and-day from the first half. Things were moving pretty quickly for him in that first half and once he settle down, he started to play pretty well.''
4. Earl Bennett signs a 4-year, $18 million contract extension.
There might not be a more curiously valuable player in the NFL than Bennett. He couldn't find the field as a rookie in 2009. But his previous experience with Jay Cutler in one season at Vanderbilt made him a key third-down, clutch receiver once Cutler was acquired from the Denver Broncos in 2009. His production is real, but prone to fairly significant fluctuations. In the two games Cutler has not started for the Bears, Bennett has two catches for nine yards.
He's an interesting personality -- a humble, soft-spoken, unpretentious guy willing to pay $10,000 to wear his own shoes in a game. A guy from Birmingham, Ala. who plays well in snow and cold weather.
HIs contract is a victory for receivers who know how to get open. When's the last time somebody gave $18 million to a veteran player with six career touchdown receptions?
''It's home, man,'' Bennett said when asked why he didn't take his chances in free agency after the season. ''The organization has been loyal to me -- they drafted me. And I wanted to be loyal to them. They had the first shot at it, they took advantage of it, and I appreciate it.''
5. Mike Martz's future with the Bears in doubt.
When Mike Martz declined to address his contract situation in training camp, it was not that big of an issue because we still didn't know whether the Bears needed Martz to stay or go. But with Jay Cutler and the offense showing signs of progress during the Bears' recent five-game winning streak, it seems clear that the Bears will be better off with Martz than without him in 2012 -- just so the Bears don't wasted the time they've invested in this offense.
After declining an extension prior to this season, Martz is on the final year of a two-year contract. It's hard to believe the Bears will be a better offensive team next season if Cutler has to learn yet another offense. One scenario would have offensive line coach Mike Tice replacing Martz. That might mitigate the affects of transition, but it also might leave the offensive line in a lurch with Tice pre-occupied by running the offense.
Martz declined to comment on internet reports he is interested in the Arizona State head coaching job. And neither would he address his situation with the Bears for next season.
''I learned a long time ago, I just don't worry about that anymore. I did at one time,'' he said. ''Today's enough. I guess I am dodging [the question]. But that's just what I believe. Today is more than enough.
''We'll worry about tomorrow when it gets here in this business. When you start worrying about those other things, you take your eye off the target and you don't do a good job at the job you have presently.''
6. Tyler Palko -- and not Kyle Orton -- expected to start for Chiefs on Sunday.
After claiming Orton on waivers from the Denver Broncos last week, the Chiefs are paying him $2.6 million, presumably for a last-ditch effort to make the playoffs (Orton will be a free agent after this season). Though Palko has thrown six interceptions and no touchdown passes and has passer ratings of 48.3 (vs. the Patriots) and 40.9 (vs. the Steelers) in two starts, coach Todd Haley said Palko would start against the Bears.
More than likely, even if Palko starts, Orton will finish. Unless the Bears are so fooled by a left-handed quarterback, that Palko has the game of his NFL career. That's always a possibility with a Bears defense that often plays up to the level of its competition. A week after Jahvid Best rushed for 163 yards on 12 carries against the Bears, Adrian Peterson gained 39 on 12 carries.
''And that [being left-handed] is different for us,'' coach Lovie Smith said. ''[Palko] has other skills. He's an athlete. For a guy that hasn't played a lot, he's doing quite a bit. They're running a no-huddle with him. Whenever you're running no-huddle with a young player like that ... but he's mobile. He can throw the ball. He's not afraid to let the ball go. It seems like the team has accepted his role being their leader right now.''