Chicago Bears Countdown to Kickoff: 18 Days with Kyle Orton

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Kyle Orton fills in for Chicago Bears before Jay Cutler trade

Initially, Orton was expected to be a backup behind 2003 first-round pick Rex Grossman, but an early preseason injury to the Florida product opened an opportunity for Orton to compete for the starting job. He took the opportunity and ran, starting in the team's first 15 games to start the season (Grossman would return as the starter halfway through the penultimate regular season game).

In those games, Orton helped the team post a 10-5 record, a franchise record for quarterback wins by a rookie. Despite having a negative TD-INT ratio (9-13), Orton was productive enough and completed a loaded defense that included players at the top of their position in Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Charles Tillman, Mike Brown, and Tommie Harris.

Nonetheless, Orton's regular season play was strong enough for the team to finish with an 11-5 record, strong enough for a first-place division finish. While Orton did not play in the postseason, the team made it to the division round before losing to the Carolina Panthers.

The following season, Grossman returned to full health and signed Brian Griese to serve as a more experienced backup quarterback. Relegated to the third string, Orton failed to make an appearance in 2006, when the Bears made it to the Super Bowl before losing to the Indianapolis Colts.

In his third professional season, Orton was again relegated to the third-string duties behind Grossman and Griese, but the Purdue star fought for the second-string job throughout the season, and eventually earned it, starting in all of the final three games of the season. There, Orton led the team to a 2-1 record and averaged nearly 160 yards per game with a ~54% completion rate. He improved his TD-INT ratio (3-2) and won the final two games of the season, although the team was already out of playoff contention when Orton took over the offense.

In 2008, Orton's impressive end from the year prior earned him both a new one-year deal and the opportunity to compete with Grossman for the starting position throughout the preseason. Eventually, Orton prevailed and became the team's day-one starter at quarterback. He would go on to play in 15 games, his lone absence coming against the Tennessee Titans in week 10.

In his first opportunity since his rookie season to show both the team and the league what he can do as a starter, Orton was fairly successful and helped the team post a 9-6 record when on the field. He finished just 28 yards shy of a 3,000-yard air total and logged 18 touchdowns to just 12 interceptions on a 58.5% completion percentage. Unfortunately, the loss in his sole absence forced the team record to just 9-7, putting them one win away from the NFC North crown. The team just barely missed the playoffs.

Following Orton's breakout season, the Chicago Bears front office had their eyes set on perhaps a better long-term solution for the position, and packed Orton with several picks in a trade to the Denver Broncos for quarterback Jay Cutler, who himself was entering just his fourth NFL season (he was drafted one year after Orton).