Monday, September 12, 2005

Kyle Orton waited until the second day of the NFL Draft to get chosen by the Chicago Bears. The fourth-round pick — 106th overall — did not have to wait at all to get his first NFL start.

The Purdue product started his first game as a pro on the road, in front of a boisterous crowd and against one of the league’s best defenses. He didn’t shine so much as survive, but he did just enough to keep his team in contention.

The Washington Redskins came at the rookie with an array of blitzes designed to rattle him. He made some misreads and had one costly interception, but mostly he kept his cool, producing the game’s only touchdown and giving his team a chance to win in the fourth quarter.

“For a rookie starting his first game in a hostile environment, I thought he gave us a chance to pull it out,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “You go back to the drive in the fourth quarter. If we were able to get something there, we’re up and it’s whole different tone from how we are talking now, so we’ll take that.”

It was not unusual for the Bears to be starting a new quarterback. This was the eighth consecutive opener in which the club has started a different quarterback from the previous season. This was, however, the first time a rookie started since Zeke Bratkowski in 1954.

Rex Grossman was supposed to be the starter, finally giving the Bears stability, but he broke his ankle early in the preseason. Understudy Chad Hutchinson failed to inspire the offense, and Orton got the job partly by default and partly with good play.

Nonetheless, Orton seemed poised if ineffective at the start.

“I wasn’t nervous,” said Orton, who regularly had balls batted back as the offense generated 84 yards and no points in the first half. “There just wasn’t a lot there. They were covering us up pretty good. I was just trying to protect the football and get rid of it. They are a good defense and fast, and they can really play.”

The 6-foot-3, 230-pound quarterback completed 15 of 28 passes overall for 141 yards. He settled down in the second half and converted a third-and-8 pass at the Washington 11 to Justin Gage to set up Thomas Jones’ 1-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. That capped the lone touchdown drive of the game for either team, a drive set up when the Redskins’ Antonio Brown fumbled the opening kickoff of the second half and gave the Bears possession at the Washington 23.

The Bears also drove deep in the fourth quarter, threatening to take the lead. They got the ball at their own 25 with 12:48 left and used three completions and a 20-yard run by Jones to get to the Redskins’ 34.

However, three consecutive false start penalties and a sack — one of three Orton absorbed — put Chicago in a second-and-38 from its own 38. The Bears punted two plays later in what would be their final legitimate scoring threat.

“We were probably within 10 yards of field goal distance and just kind of came unglued there a little bit,” Orton said. “It got really loud and [the Redskins defense] started showing us some different looks. We were trying to call some stuff out for the line to get protection right. Like I said, it was loud. It was a tough situation.”

Late in the third quarter, Orton gave his team a chance to take the lead. However on first-and-10, he forced a throw and was intercepted by linebacker Lemar Marshall.

The Bears had a last-gasp chance when they got the ball back with 1:43 left at their own 20. While trying to make a big play on second down under a heavy rush, Orton had the ball stripped by defensive tackle Cornelius Griffin, who also fell on the ball. The turnover ensured the Redskins’ victory — and Orton’s first loss.

“I think he is going to be real good,” Redskins safety Matt Bowen said. “We showed him a lot of stuff he hadn’t seen. I remember my first game and I was playing defense. I couldn’t imagine what he was going through as a quarterback. He gave them a chance to win in the end.”

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