Once upon a time, Kyle Orton protected the football better than any quarterback in Bears history. November now sounds like a fairy tale.
Once upon a time, Kyle Orton protected the football better than any quarterback in Bears history.
November now sounds like a fairy tale. After throwing a franchise-record 205 passes without an interception, Orton has been picked off eight times in three and a half games.
“It’s hard to say exactly the reason why,” coach Lovie Smith said, “but the same guy that you saw earlier that threw all those passes without an interception, that’s what we are expecting to get this week.”
Orton has had a passer rating below 50 the past two weeks, but has righted himself late to keep the Bears (9-6) in playoff contention heading into Sunday’s finale at Houston (7-8). He completed 9 of 12 passes for 61 yards to set up a game-tying field goal at the buzzer in a 27-24 overtime win over the Saints. Last week, he was 2 of 2 for 31 yards in overtime to set up the winning field goal in a 20-17 comeback win over the Packers.
“That’s great,” defensive end Adewale Ogunleye said. “What’s good about that is to see a quarterback not go in the tank completely. Some quarterbacks, when things don’t go well, the whole game goes in the trash.
“But Kyle seems to not be fazed by mistakes. He knows everybody makes them and keeps trucking.”
So Kyle Orton can rescue himself and turn the worst of times into OK times. But what happened to the safest of times? Orton was supposed to be the anti-Rex, a quarterback who might not throw for 300 yards but would at least avoid mistakes after the roller-coaster Rex Grossman years.
“I try to play that way but haven’t been able to do that the last few weeks,” Orton said. “We haven’t been very efficient in the passing game the last few weeks. That starts with me. The passing game starts with me. I take it upon myself to do whatever we have to do to get it done.”
Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe Orton’s taking too much upon himself. After averaging 301 yards passing in a three-game stretch in early October, the Bears have thrown for more than 175 yards only once in the last eight games. Most of Orton’s interceptions have come after the Bears have fallen behind, and several were immediately after a dropped pass.
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said Orton simply made bad decisions on most of those throws.
“I don’t think he trusted what he saw,” Turner said. “He was trying too hard to make something happen instead of just reading the coverage, which is what he has done such a great job of all year.
“He’s got to get back to that. Read the coverage and go where it takes you. He was trying to make a play.”
Trying to make something out of nothing doesn’t work.
“When people press, try to do a little extra,” Orton agreed, “we get into trouble.”
The solution could be as simple as getting off to a fast start, as the Bears did so often early in the season.
“When you establish the passing game at the start, that helps for the rest of the game,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “But when you struggle early, it’s hard to get going.”
Besides pressing, Orton said defenders have fooled him a couple of times. His interceptions, though, have never been about his throws. They’ve always come down to what he saw, or didn’t see, and what choices he made.
“You pay the price when you make bad decisions,” Orton said, “and I’ve done that the last few games. I need to take it upon myself to have a good game decision-wise.”
Turner thinks Orton has a helpful reminder for that: The way he’s rallied the Bears to pivotal fourth-quarter and overtime rallies the last two weeks.
“When we executed down the stretch, we were running very, very base plays. Nothing tricky at all,” Turner said. “We were running plays we put in on the first day of training camp.
“It drives that message home: We don’t have to trick people. We just have to line up and execute.
“Hopefully, that’s a message that will be sent to Kyle as a young quarterback. He’ll understand, ‘I don’t have to do anything more. Just go with my reads and run the offense and good things will happen.’ ”
Assistant sports editor Matt Trowbridge can be reached at: 815-987-1383 or firstname.lastname@example.org