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The thermostat in the downstairs hallway comes with a lot of options: heat, cool, off, automatic, manual, etc.

There are a lot of numbers, too, though many have become obsolete in light of soaring natural gas prices. Anything over 65 is a distant memory.

So far, 61 to 63 degrees has been the "norm," to the chagrin of an aging, shivering poodle.

She'll thaw out, likely around mid-May. June at the latest.

For now, the thermostat will be set on "Orton," to mirror the quarterback rating of Chicago Bears' rookie Kyle Orton.

That means knocking it down to 60 this week … the closest thing to Orton's NFL-worst 60.2.

If the Bears can survive it, we can, too.

You have to admire them for that, particularly after Sunday's 19-7 win over Green Bay at Soldier Field.

Orton completed 6 of 17 passes for 68 yards and an interception. It added up (or down) to a 23.7 quarterback rating for the day, frigid even by our standards.

Yet, the Bears won their eighth game in a row, all with Orton calling the signals.

The only thing less likely would be winning eight straight with me under center.

Or Chad Hutchinson.

Managing not to lose

Orton's supporters point only to the win total, applauding him for "managing" games and complementing the league's top-rated defense.

They embrace him for handing the ball off to 1,000-yard rusher Thomas Jones and, other than a five-interception meltdown against Cincinnati in week three, limiting his turnovers.

In short, they salute the fourth-round draft pick out of Purdue for staying out of the way, as much as a quarterback can.

Consider him a serviceable non-factor, much like parsley. It won't rescue a meal, but won't spoil one, either.

Similarly, Orton won't win a game, but also won't lose one, provided the defense shows up. It has throughout the win streak, allowing 8.5 points per game.

Question is, does that make it OK to blindly accept the NFL's worst production at the game's most important position?

To be fair, it also is the most demanding. Being a rookie quarterback in the NFL is among the toughest jobs in sports.

Yet, while you may admire Orton's leadership and fortitude, you have to consider alternatives with the playoffs approaching.

If aging backup Jeff Blake was the answer, we would have seen him by now. However, Rex Grossman cannot be discounted so easily.

Viable option

The third-year quarterback was the starter in August before fracturing an ankle in the preseason. He may be healthy enough to move ahead of Blake this week at Pittsburgh, and could be 100 percent before the regular season ends.

At some point, do you play him in place of Orton, even if the win streak is intact?

You at least must allow for the possibility, and hopefully, Coach Lovie Smith will.

Monday, while emphasizing Orton is still the starter, Smith told The Associated Press, "We need to improve our quarterback play," and also said, "Every position we have is based on performance. If you're the starter, you have to perform to a certain level to continue to play."

In Orton's defense, his receiving corps is suspect aside from veteran Muhsin Muhammad, and even he has dropped passes of late.

Orton's backers will remind you his 12 NFL starts are twice as many as Grossman, who was limited to six in his first two years by injury. Grossman's 74.1 quarterback rating in those outings was hardly spectacular, either.

Still, he was a first-round draft choice and, prior to going down on Aug. 12, was deemed your best - for the present and future.

Grossman lost his job to injury, and Orton has done little to win it, even though his team has won.

For now, Smith's challenge to Orton to play better is a positive step. Maybe he'll heat up, and the quarterback rating will rise.

The poodle would love it.

Randy Kindred is a Pantagraph columnist. To leave him a voice mail, call 820-3402, By e-mail:rkindred@pantagraph.com.

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