Bears fans may
grimace, but Rex Grossman is back as the starting QB—and may be the best option
AS HIS smartly
dressed teammates got away for dinner after arriving in Seattle last Saturday,
Bears quarterback Rex Grossman shed his travel attire of slacks and blazer and
slipped on gym shorts and flip-flops. The only thing he hungered for was a
chance to get on the field.
seven weeks had been hell on Grossman. A Super Bowl quarterback just last
February, he had been benched three games into this season with his team 1--2
and 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 returning
to the starting lineup for the next day's game against the Seahawks.
happened was disappointing," said Grossman of being replaced as starter by
Brian Griese, who sat out Sunday's game with a sprained left shoulder. "But
I feel like I have a new lease on football life. It's one more shot to let
everybody know who I am as a quarterback."
Most cities would
gladly tolerate, if not embrace, a QB who has twice as many regular-season
victories (18) as defeats (nine) as a starter. But in the eyes of many in
Chicago, the book on Grossman is already closed. The only question now is
whether the Bears feel the same way. His 24-of-37, 266-yard passing performance
in 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 failed
to throw a touchdown pass and lost a fumble midway through the fourth quarter
when Chicago was trying to erase a seven-point deficit.
Grossman is in
the final year of the contract he signed after being drafted in the first round
in 2003, and the Bears (now 4--6) must decide in the off-season whether to
commit 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 is
that that's ample time to determine whether a player at the position has the
goods. "That's enough time to understand the offense, get a taste of the
league," says Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, who has worked with Steve Young,
Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck. "You get to observe how he handles
pressure, how his teammates react to him. If he can play at two years, you
should have an idea, and then you commit."
The problem in
evaluating Grossman is that he's wildly inconsistent. In 23 starts over the
last two seasons (including the postseason) he has had seven games in which his
quarterback rating was 100 or higher and six in which it was below 37. Against
Green Bay in the 2006 season finale, he had a rating of 0.00. Which is the real
thing is evaluating results as compared to evaluating someone's ability to
play," says Chargers coach Norv Turner, another quarterback guru. "A
lot of factors go into the quarterback's success other than just his
ability—how your offensive line is playing, where your team is in terms of
development, the health of the defense, the style of offense."
As much as
critics might cringe at the thought of Grossman returning next season, coach
Lovie Smith says he can envision the fifth-year pro being the "long-term
solution." The reasons extend beyond Grossman.