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As history repeats itself, Chase Daniel turning into valuable upgrade for Bears

This rejuvenating Bears season is all about upgrades. Almost everywhere you look, the Bears are better than they have been in recent years — even some of the glory years.

Would you rather have Mitch Trubisky or Jay Cutler? Matt Nagy or Lovie Smith? Ryan Pace or Jerry Angelo? Even some heretofore untouchables would be close calls: Khalil Mack or Brian Urlacher? Roquan Smith or Lance Briggs? Akiem Hicks or Julius Peppers? Eddie Jackson or Mike Brown?

The perspective of time and history will tell the tale, of course. But here’s one that seems like a no-brainer as the Bears prepare to face the Giants on Sunday at the Meadowlands: Chase Daniel or Caleb Hanie?

The two backup quarterbacks are connected by the fate that put them in the spotlight: replacing an injured starter with the Bears 7-3 and seemingly headed toward the playoffs.

Bears quarterback Chase Daniel passes against the Lions on Thursday. | Rick Osentoski/AP photo

Bears quarterback Chase Daniel passes against the Lions on Thursday. | Rick Osentoski/AP photo

In 2011, the Bears had just won their fifth consecutive game and looked like the best threat to the dominant Packers (10-0 at the time) in the NFC. When Cutler suffered a broken thumb trying to make a tackle after throwing an interception in a victory over the Chargers, the Bears felt confident Hanie could manage the Bears into the playoffs.

And they weren’t alone. Hanie had never started a regular-season game but didn’t shrink in the spotlight when he replaced Cutler in the NFC Championship Game against the Packers the previous postseason, leading two touchdown drives in the fourth quarter of a 21-14 loss. He also threw a disastrous pick-six, but overall, for a Bears backup quarterback, the competency was mesmerizing.

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As Bears fate would have it, Hanie was a disappointing failure in 2011. With little support from an offense that withered without Cutler, Hanie went 0-4 as the starter, producing 40 points in four games with three touchdown passes, nine interceptions and passer ratings of 56.9, 23.8, 79.9 and 33.3. He was replaced by newly signed Josh McCown, but it was too late. The Bears finished 7-9 and missed the playoffs.

A similar scenario has developed now. Like Cutler, Trubisky was injured in the fourth quarter of a game at Soldier Field that the Bears were winning on their way to improving to 7-3. And like Cutler, Trubisky finished the game without any indication he was injured.

The difference? Daniel, while lacking game experience, has a comfort level in Nagy’s offense and — at 32 — a knowledge of his role that puts the wind at his back. He’s already one win ahead of Hanie after throwing two touchdowns with no turnovers in the Bears’ 23-16 victory over the Lions on Thanksgiving Day.

He also has the advantage of arguably the best defense in the NFL (Hanie’s Bears still had Urlacher, Peppers, Briggs, Charles Tillman, Henry Melton and Tim Jennings but were ranked 25th in total defense). All that remains to be seen is if Daniel can be just as efficient as the league sees more of him.

“You don’t want this situation,” Nagy said. “But when you’re in a situation like we had last week . . . you feel very confident. We did not have one rep with the guys last week, and we didn’t change anything. For my history with Chase and the relationship I have with him, he’s always been almost like a bit of an assistant coach to us as well. He’s been great at that, so now here’s a guy who is fulfilling that ‘assistant coach’ part, but a guy that has the ability to step in and make coaches feel very comfortable that you can win games with him at quarterback.”