Kyle Orton has had something of a breakout season. In the first half of the year, he was especially good -- through eight games, Orton threw for 10 touchdowns and only four interceptions, and his quarterback rating was 90.8 He looked -- dare we say it -- like a franchise quarterback deserving of a long-term commitment.
Then, midway through the year, Orton came back down to Earth. In games 9-15, his QB rating dropped to 63.4 and his touchdown tosses decreased to a mere five. He still only threw four interceptions, but it's been as clear on the field as in the stats: Orton's success has dwindled. He's been half of a good quarterback this year. The Bears, if they commit to him, will be looking for the whole thing.
Which is why tonight's Bears-Packers tilt means everything for Orton. Sure, it means a lot from a team standpoint -- the Bears need a win to get into the playoffs after a miraculous Sunday in which all the chips (the Falcons, Eagles, Cowboys, and Vikings) fell the Bears' way. It's a Packers game, which would mean much to both the players and fans even if a playoff spot wasn't in question. It's a big, big game.
But it's also a big game because it's Orton's last best shot. It's the biggest impression he gets to leave on a Bears front office that has the ability to make him a rich(er) man. It's his chance at the sort of career stability every NFL player wants. It's the last chance at proving that his first year in the league -- despite Orton's play -- wasn't emblematic of his larger ability, but a mere stepping stone to greater things. It's Orton's biggest game of the year for reasons that have nothing to do with his team.
A big game could seal Orton's future. Whether it will land him on the Bears, or in free agency, remains to be seen.