LAKE FOREST, Ill. (Dec. 8, 2005) --Their eight-game winning streak and top-rated defense were shoved to the background when the Chicago Bears moved Rex Grossman up the depth chart to No. 2 quarterback behind rookie starter Kyle Orton.
Could a change be in the works? A quarterback controversy on a 9-3 team?
Grossman, the starter before breaking his ankle in a preseason game Aug. 12, has been the emergency third quarterback the past two weeks. Now he's one play away from replacing Orton, who's struggling and has a quarterback rating of 60.2.
Deemed healthy, Grossman also got limited practice time Dec. 7 with the first unit as the Bears got ready for their game in Pittsburgh.
"Obviously I want to play. There's no one in this locker room that doesn't want to play. At the same time I don't want to be a distraction to the team, I'm just here trying to do the best I can do. Whatever they tell me to do, I'm going to do," Grossman said.
"I'm physically able to do everything that I need to do to play. ... I just know, it's pretty obvious we need to get better in the passing game."
Grossman underwent surgery after breaking his ankle in the second preseason game at St. Louis -- his second major injury in as many seasons. After starting the final three games as a rookie in 2003, Grossman's second season ended when he tore the ACL in his right knee on a touchdown run in Week 3 against Minnesota.
Orton has been the starter during the team's longest winning streak in 20 years, one built on defense and a running game. He connected on just 6 of 17 passes last week for 68 yards in a victory over Green Bay, and his critics are mounting.
Orton, a fourth-round pick, said the criticism doesn't bother him and he's not taking it personally. And, he added, it's not all his fault.
"It's just time for everybody to step up. Even if the look isn't there, just go ahead and make the play," Orton said.
"Just beat your guy and just make the play. If that's me throwing a perfect ball, then that's me throwing a perfect ball. That's just what we have to do."
Wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad was held without a catch against the Packers, the first time he's been shut out since 2002. Muhammad said not catching any passes wasn't all his doing, either.
"I don't think anyone expected Kyle to be the guy doing what he's done," Muhammad said. "Leading us to victories, or should I say not losing any games for us. ... We lost our starting quarterback, and that has been the place where of late we have struggled. I think Kyle can admit he struggled in the last game playing. Everyone expected Rex to be back at the end of the season. I think the most unexpected thing is for us to be 9-3 without Rex."
Offensive coordinator Ron Turner said he doesn't expect Orton, who's struggled with his accuracy, to be looking over his shoulder.
"But I think he knows there's probably a little more sense of urgency right now. Rex is back. He was our starter coming into the year," Turner said.
"He is back, he's healthy and he's getting a little bit of work. But we still have a lot of confidence in Kyle. He didn't play, obviously, his best game on Sunday. But to be honest with you, there's some other guys who didn't either."
Grossman, admitting it was tough to answer questions with Orton at a nearby locker, characterized his relationship with Orton this way: "We pretty kind of let each other kind of do our own thing and not talk a whole lot about football."
But even though he hasn't played in a regular-season game in well over a year, Grossman was confident he could give the offense a lift if he got the chance.
"If you're asking me if I feel like I could throw for more yards (68) than that, yes I could," he said. "But at the same time I'm not doing it. ... I don't want to be sitting here saying, 'Yeah, I can do better than that.' At the same time it's the ultimate team sport, it's not just the quarterback."