Grossman crams for his first playoff test
Published: Friday, January 13, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 13, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
When the Chicago Bears met Wednesday to discuss their offensive game plan, quarterback Rex Grossman tried something different. He brought a tape recorder.
"I just thought it was a good way, while I'm going through my notes, to listen to the meeting as well," Grossman said before practice. "Just another thing to try and get better."
Facing the biggest test of his career, Grossman is cramming like a student before a final exam, preparing intently for the Bears' playoff game on Sunday at Soldier Field against the Carolina Panthers. No quarterback in the playoffs is greener than Grossman, who has started just seven games in his NFL career and who attempted just 39 passes this season, missing most of the year with a broken left ankle.
Grossman's body of work is more like a blank canvas. How confident will he be? How much will the Bears ask him to do? How will he react against an experienced Carolina defense that shut out the Giants in its playoff opener?
Those questions are being debated constantly in Chicago, where the playoff fate of the Bears could rest largely in Grossman's hands. A superb defense carried Chicago to an 11-5 regular season. But to go further, the Bears will need solid play from a quarterback who has been more mystery than marvel.
"Everyone has their own opinion of me, about how I'm going to play, or how good you think I am," said Grossman, who has been sidelined with injuries for much of his three-year NFL career. "I'm a pretty confident player. I feel like I can go out and have a good game."
Grossman has waited for this opportunity. After winning the starting job for the Bears late in the 2003 season, he sustained a season-ending knee injury in the fourth game of the season in 2004. Then - after reclaiming the starting position last summer - Grossman broke his left ankle during an August preseason game, and the rookie Kyle Orton became the Bears' starter.
While Grossman sat out most of the season, Orton directed a conservative attack and the Bears rebounded from a 1-3 start, at one point winning eight consecutive games. But Chicago was held to fewer than 20 points in six of those eight victories, and when Grossman finally returned, the Bears were faced with a quarterback controversy.
Coach Lovie Smith finally made the switch, replacing Orton with Grossman at halftime of the Bears' Dec. 18 game against the Atlanta Falcons. From the time Grossman entered the game, his teammates sensed new energy in the huddle. Though he has not played much, Grossman is respected in the locker room for the way he has battled back from injury. During the summer, he moved close to the Bears' practice facility in order to spend more time studying and working out. While he was injured, Grossman changed his diet, improved his conditioning and remained a constant presence around the team, hoping to make a late-season return.
"Rex has an intangible kind of thing," wide receiver Bernard Berrian said. "You can't really describe it. But it's there."
Ron Turner, Chicago's offensive coordinator, said: "When he wasn't playing, he was going to meetings, taking notes, and he was preparing. He brought that recorder in and put it down today; it made me a little nervous. We got to watch what we say.
"He said he puts it on his iPod, takes it back and listens to it. Most people listen to music. He's listening to me. I feel sorry for him."
Some people felt sorry for Giants quarterback Eli Manning on Sunday as he struggled against the Panthers, who rolled to a 23-0 victory. Grossman has watched videotape of that game, but he does not expect to suffer the same fate as Manning.
"The Giants had a lot of plays that could have been made, they just didn't make them," Grossman said. "They never got into a rhythm. It really wasn't anything Carolina did."
Grossman has carried that kind of confidence since his college days at Florida. The Bears selected Grossman with the 22nd pick in the 2003 draft, believing the tutelage he received from his college coach, Steve Spurrier, would help Grossman blossom quickly as a professional.
"Coach Spurrier was extremely intense and really got after you if you didn't see the right reads," Grossman said. "He put a lot of pressure on you to be great. I think I handled it well, filtering out the negative and turning it into a positive."
Asked Wednesday to name his best game so far, Grossman hesitated for a second, then responded, "Probably against LSU, 2001."
But Grossman hopes his best game with the Bears will come Sunday. Rarely does a quarterback with so little game experience start a playoff game, but Grossman said he believes in his talent and in the talent surrounding him.
"I don't feel like a rookie," he said. "I have an unbelievable opportunity in front of me, and you can believe I'm not going to let it slide."
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