Bears fans maygrimace, but Rex Grossman is back as the starting QB—and may be the best optionin 2008
AS HIS smartlydressed teammates got away for dinner after arriving in Seattle last Saturday,Bears quarterback Rex Grossman shed his travel attire of slacks and blazer andslipped on gym shorts and flip-flops. The only thing he hungered for was achance to get on the field.
The previousseven weeks had been hell on Grossman. A Super Bowl quarterback just lastFebruary, he had been benched three games into this season with his team 1--2and his quarterback rating a dismal 45.2. As he sat on a couch in the Bears'hotel on Saturday night, he rubbed his palms together, excited about returningto the starting lineup for the next day's game against the Seahawks.
November 26, 2007
"Whathappened was disappointing," said Grossman of being replaced as starter byBrian Griese, who sat out Sunday's game with a sprained left shoulder. "ButI feel like I have a new lease on football life. It's one more shot to leteverybody know who I am as a quarterback."
Most cities wouldgladly tolerate, if not embrace, a QB who has twice as many regular-seasonvictories (18) as defeats (nine) as a starter. But in the eyes of many inChicago, the book on Grossman is already closed. The only question now iswhether the Bears feel the same way. His 24-of-37, 266-yard passing performancein the 30--23 loss to Seattle will do little to change his critics' minds. Yes,he was efficient in taking what the defense offered underneath. But he failedto throw a touchdown pass and lost a fumble midway through the fourth quarterwhen Chicago was trying to erase a seven-point deficit.
Grossman is inthe final year of the contract he signed after being drafted in the first roundin 2003, and the Bears (now 4--6) must decide in the off-season whether tocommit to him or pull the plug. If he stays in the lineup the rest of the way,Grossman will have had almost two full seasons as a starter. The consensus isthat that's ample time to determine whether a player at the position has thegoods. "That's enough time to understand the offense, get a taste of theleague," says Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, who has worked with Steve Young,Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck. "You get to observe how he handlespressure, how his teammates react to him. If he can play at two years, youshould have an idea, and then you commit."
The problem inevaluating Grossman is that he's wildly inconsistent. In 23 starts over thelast two seasons (including the postseason) he has had seven games in which hisquarterback rating was 100 or higher and six in which it was below 37. AgainstGreen Bay in the 2006 season finale, he had a rating of 0.00. Which is the realRex?
"The hardestthing is evaluating results as compared to evaluating someone's ability toplay," says Chargers coach Norv Turner, another quarterback guru. "Alot of factors go into the quarterback's success other than just hisability—how your offensive line is playing, where your team is in terms ofdevelopment, the health of the defense, the style of offense."
As much ascritics might cringe at the thought of Grossman returning next season, coachLovie Smith says he can envision the fifth-year pro being the "long-termsolution." The reasons extend beyond Grossman.
The pool offree-agent quarterbacks won't be deep, and anyone of note would be pricey.That's an issue because the Bears have other concerns: re-signing linebackerLance Briggs and wideout Bernard Berrian, addressing an aging offensive line,possibly upgrading the running game because Cedric Benson has not been acredible replacement for Thomas Jones.
Even at his best,Grossman is not regarded as a quarterback who can carry a team. Last season hebenefited from a strong running game, a stingy defense and sure-handedreceivers. This season the Bears' running game ranks 29th in the league, thedefense is surrendering nearly six additional points a game and the receivingcorps that according to STATS LLC dropped just 12 passes last season had nearlydoubled that total, with 23, entering last Sunday's game.
All of thosefactors have contributed to Grossman's inconsistency. His strengths areplay-action passes and throwing the deep ball. But with the running gamestalled, defenses are not biting on play fakes. "We weren't going to givehim the deep, over-our-head ball," Seahawks safety Brian Russell said onSunday. "It was our game plan to limit those big plays and make him dinkand dunk."
Smith, who hasalways been solidly in Grossman's corner, did not immediately commit to him asthe starter this week against visiting Denver. But either way, the biggerdecision will come after the season.
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The contribution of Josh Cribbs (right) to the Browns'6--4 start can't be overstated. His 39-yard kickoff return on Sunday atBaltimore set up the field goal that forced overtime, and his 41-yard return toopen the extra period helped position Phil Dawson for the winningthree-pointer. This after returns of 90 and 100 yards against the Steelers andan 85-yarder against Cincinnati.... The season's most underrated player mightbe Jaguars QB David Garrard. He wasn't named the starter until the week beforethe opener, but in five of his last six starts he's had a passer rating of 100or higher. He also has yet to throw an interception—he has eight touchdownpasses—for the 7--3 Jaguars.... New Orleans coach Sean Payton is no longerpublicly protecting Reggie Bush. After Sunday's loss at Houston, Paytoncriticized the former Heisman winner for blown assignments, dropped passes anda lost fumble. "It wasn't good enough," the coach said. "I thinkhe'd tell you that as well." Ouch.