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Xs AND O's

Grossman's play is key for Bears

January 11, 2007|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

After winning their first seven games, the Chicago Bears were 6-3 in their last nine games and looked very beatable because of poor quarterback play and injuries on defense.

Much-maligned Rex Grossman and his 73.9 passer rating were often blamed for the shaky play of the Bears, who open the playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday at Soldier Field.

Grossman, the first Chicago quarterback to start every regular-season game since Erik Kramer in 1995, is coming off his worst game this season -- which is saying something.

In the Bears' 26-7 loss to Green Bay, Grossman lost a fumble and completed two of 12 passes for 33 yards with three interceptions -- two of which were returned for touchdowns.

Although it's extremely difficult to produce quarterback numbers that bad, Coach Lovie Smith will stick with Grossman against the Seahawks.

That's a risky move.

When Grossman has been off, he has been really off. There were five games this season in which he failed to complete at least 45% of his passes and 16 of his 20 interceptions came in those games.

What Smith is undoubtedly hoping for is that the 2003 first-round draft pick from Florida plays like he did in two key regular-season victories.

When Chicago played Seattle on Oct. 1, Grossman was 17 for 31 for 232 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also played well in a road win over the New York Giants, connecting on 18 of 30 passes for 246 yards and three touchdowns with one interception.

In both games, Grossman took advantage of aggressive play calling by offensive coordinator Ron Turner and completed at least three passes to three different receivers.

Although the Bears will probably try to run first with Thomas Jones and Cedric Benson, they'll need to free up Grossman early to boost his confidence by giving him a chance to complete high-percentage passes.

It's important that Grossman be on top of his game because the Bears' once-dominant defense has shown some cracks since safety Mike Brown and tackle Tommie Harris suffered season-ending injuries.

Following the quick-pass blueprint established by Arizona in a mid-season Monday night game against the Bears, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Green Bay each moved the ball well against Chicago over the final three weeks.

But the Bears' blitzes get some bite back Sunday because cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher, along with safety Todd Johnson -- all recently slowed by injuries -- will be in the lineup and ready to go.

Summary: When Chicago made its winning playoff run in 1985, the Bears took full advantage of playing at windy and cold Soldier Field. Featuring a dominant defense, strong running and a big-play passing attack, Chicago beat the Giants and the Los Angeles Rams by a combined 45-0 before defeating the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. The forecast for this weekend: snow and heavy winds.

lonnie.white@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Tamed Bear

How Rex Grossman fared against Carolina in last season's playoff loss at Chicago:

* Completions...17

* Attempts...41

* Yards...192

* Touchdowns...1

* Interceptions...1

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