LAKE FOREST, Ill. (Dec. 4, 2006) -- Let the fans boo and the critics ramble. Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith refused to budge. He's sticking with Rex Grossman as his starting quarterback.
A day after the Bears wrapped up their second straight NFC North championship, Grossman's lowly performance in a 23-13 win over the Vikings was still the main topic. A 1.3 quarterback rating and three more interceptions increased the clamoring for a change to veteran Brian Griese.
Grossman's shaky outing took the edge off clinching a playoff spot and left many wondering if he could return to the way he played the first five weeks of the season instead of continuing on his present course.
"We are not making a change. ... Rex didn't play as well as he needed to yesterday. It was a bad game for us, bad game for Rex," Smith said Dec. 4 after reviewing tape.
Grossman was booed in the preseason but won NFC offensive player of the month for September. In his first five games, he threw for 10 touchdowns and three interceptions.
But in a Monday night game at Arizona when the Bears rallied for a 24-23 victory, the Cardinals pressured Grossman into four interceptions, showing other teams how to attack the Bears defensively. Grossman then had a rash of turnovers in losses to Miami and New England. In the last seven games, he has eight TD passes and 14 INTs.
"I'm thinking too much, trying to analyze things too much and making it more complicated than it is," Grossman said after completing 6 of 19 passes for 34 yards. "It's a lot easier when you just go and play and react."
Smith said Grossman hasn't lost his confidence but it's obvious he's thinking about his play. And sitting Grossman down for a couple of games wouldn't resolve the issue, the coach said.
"I just don't know how much you get from the sidelines. I think you get better playing," Smith said.
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner suggested that Grossman could turn it around as quickly as his play has soured over the last several weeks. That seems to be what the Bears are looking for in their patient approach with their young quarterback.
"I've seen Rex play well. And that's what you have to go on. We have a lot of football left to go, we're just getting ready to start the last quarter of the season," Smith said. "I think he will get back to that point."
The Bears (10-2) still have plenty to play for -- best record in the NFC and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They play at St. Louis on Dec. 11 and if they win, coupled with losses by the Cowboys and Seahawks, they will secure a first-round bye.
With the passing game struggling, the Bears relied once again on a defense that came up with four interceptions of Brad Johnson and the spectacular return ability of rookie Devin Hester.
Hester returned a punt 45 yards for a score and now has four returns for TDs this season -- three punts and one missed field goal -- to tie an NFL record. And now he's getting a chance at kickoff returns, too.
"We need to get his hands on the football as much as we possibly can. I think it is safe to say we'll give him a few more shots back there," Smith said.
The Bears' defense came up with five turnovers Sunday and Chicago now has 39 takeaways in 12 games. But the Bears were also vulnerable to the run as the Vikings rolled up 192 yards rushing.
That could be even more of a problem if Pro Bowl defensive tackle Tommie Harris is out for an extended period of time. Harris had an MRI Dec. 4 after spraining his left knee in the third quarter Sunday. Smith said he doesn't know how long Harris will be out but added that the injury is not season-ending.
The Bears are also watching Pro Bowl cornerback Nathan Vasher, who hurt his hamstring Sunday.
Healing the injuries and getting home field advantage are priorities in the final month when the Bears play four teams with losing records.
But getting Grossman straightened out might be even bigger.
"That's about all I can tell you about it right now is that we realize we have to get better at the position," Smith said.
"We can't make the mistakes that we made. But Rex is our starting quarterback and we're trying to get him better."