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This couldn't have been what Chad Hutchinson had in mind when he vowed to be more relaxed for Friday night's home exhibition opener at Soldier Field.

On a night when the starters were scheduled to play deep into the third quarter, Hutchinson wore a baseball cap and blank expression after halftime, numbly pondering another night he'd like to forget.

Who knows if the Kyle Orton era has begun? But this much is clear: Hutchinson's dismal first half in the Bears' 16-12 victory over Buffalo forced coach Lovie Smith to start the third quarter with Orton, the rookie quarterback, drawing loud cheers from the crowd of 48,107.

Adrian Peterson's 3-yard touchdown run with 92 seconds left capped a 50-yard drive, led by Jeff Blake, to give the Bears the win.

That same crowd spent most of the first half lustily booing Hutchinson, who finished with a passer rating of 0.0 after going 3-for-14 for 33 yards, two interceptions and three sacks.

The Bears managed just two first downs in a first half in which Hutchinson's first completion was to Bills cornerback Nate Clements, who returned it 31 yards for a touchdown.

Even teammates who had strongly supported Hutchinson in the aftermath of last weekend's mediocre performance in Indianapolis seemed to get swept up in his struggles, angrily slamming helmets as they returned to the sideline after another failed possession.

Orton did nothing to discourage fans who have been clamoring for him to get the starting job.

Playing almost the entire third quarter and against Buffalo's second-team defense, Orton energized the crowd by directing a 12-play, 81-yard scoring drive capped by his 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Desmond Clark.

Orton passed for six first downs on the drive, which chewed up 6 minutes 19 seconds, and converted both third-down plays.

His performance drew a pat of congratulations from Hutchinson along the sideline.

"I got a lot of confidence after that first completion [on another drive] and kept it going on that drive," Orton said. "I was excited. I was hoping to get a couple of series with the first team in this game.

"It's a whole new level for me. I missed one pass to Moose (Muhsin Muhammad) on the little comeback we ran. So I can't get too high. But it felt good."

Nothing felt good about the Bears' opening possessions. The first two were three-and-out affairs, followed by Clements' interception.

Showing shaky pocket presence similar to that in Indianapolis, Hutchinson never looked away from Bernard Berrian on an out pattern, patted the ball once and fired. Clements strolled into the end zone untouched.

The Bears responded on the next possession with a 28-yard field goal by Doug Brien, capping a seven-play, 57-yard drive highlighted by Thomas Jones' 40-yard burst off left guard.

That would be the extent of the first-half offensive highlights.

The boo-birds really came into full throat on the Bears' next two possessions. First, Hutchinson badly underthrew Muhammad and overthrew Clark on the same series.

Then, after Charles Tillman's 43-yard fumble return and an unnecessary-roughness penalty had taken the Bears from playing red-zone defense to the Bills' 38-yard line, the offense promptly snuffed momentum.

Hutchinson overthrew Muhammad in double coverage. He got sacked on second down. Ruben Brown's holding penalty negated a 24-yard pass play to Muhammad on third down.

On the Bears' next possession, Buffalo's Eric King dropped an easy interception. Justin Gage then dropped a potential 20-yard gain on third down.

By the time Hutchinson forced a pass to a closely covered Jones that got tipped and intercepted by linebacker Takeo Spikes on yet another sputtering possession, the crowd had seen enough.

Only a fumbled snap that led to Hunter Hillenmeyer's sack and pushed that Bills drive starting at the Bears' 3-yard line to the 23 prevented Buffalo from scoring a TD. Buffalo settled for a 38-yard field goal by Rian Lindell and a 9-3 halftime lead.

The Bears again were able to effectively run the ball, with Jones rushing for 94 yards on 14 carries, an average of 6.7 yards.

But the Bears have a full-blown quarterback controversy on their hands with the season opener just two weeks away.

Who said exhibition schedules are boring?

"Playing at Purdue and coming from Iowa, I'm just a Midwestern guy," Orton said.

He also could be the Bears' starting quarterback.

kcjohnson@tribune.com

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