Chicago's hope relies on Rex


Published: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 21, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

CHICAGO — The Saints can do no wrong, and Bears quarterback Rex Grossman can't catch a break. Today, they come together, sort of like the Road Runner meeting Charlie Brown with the Super Bowl on the line.

"The Saints are the feel-good story and all of that," Grossman said. "They deserve a lot of attention right now."

On the other hand, Grossman (University of Florida) seemed relieved that Friday's news conference was the last time he would be talking to reporters before today's NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field.

To say Grossman has been much maligned by the media and fans this season is an understatement. Asked if he thought the criticism was fair, Grossman said, "No. In some cases, yes. In some cases no. I'd like to ..."

At that point, Grossman, the quarterback with the 14-3 record this season, let out a huff before continuing "... I'd like to just not talk about that, to tell you the truth."

Grossman's seven games with a passer rating of 100 or better tied Peyton Manning for second in the league this season. But his five games below 40 was a league high that included a 0.0 in the regular-season finale.

In last week's 27-24 victory over Seattle, Grossman had the second-highest passer rating (76.9) among the four winning quarterbacks in the divisional playoff games. His regular-season rating of 73.9 ranked 24th and makes him the lowest-rated quarterback to reach a conference championship game since Detroit's Erik Kramer (71.8) in 1991.

None of that means a thing to Bears coach Lovie Smith, who has steadfastly defended Grossman every step of the way this season.

"I've never seen a player go through as much criticism as Rex Grossman has had to go through this year," Smith said. "He's led us to 14 wins. He's outstanding off the field. He does everything anyone wants him to do. I think it's been documented that I like him leading our team, and I have all the confidence in the world that he can get the job done."

Meanwhile, in New Orleans, Saints general manager Mickey Loomis recently collected NFL Executive of the Year awards from the Pro Football Writers Association and Pro Football Weekly. He was the slam-dunk choice.

After all, he hired NFL Coach of the Year Sean Payton, the former Cowboys assistant who wasn't exactly the hottest coaching prospect last offseason; gambled $10 million in bonus money that NFL passing leader Drew Brees would come back from surgery on his throwing shoulder; drafted Reggie Bush No. 2 overall when the Texans allowed him to drop; and found the undisputed steal of the draft in Hofstra receiver Marques Colston three picks from the end of the draft.

"It's pretty interesting how we've all been brought together here," Brees said Friday. "I was thinking I'd still be with the Chargers, (running back) Deuce McAllister was coming off the knee injury. Marques probably didn't think he'd even be playing football.

"But I guess to put a group of guys like this together, maybe thanks goes to the man upstairs. Maybe it's all destiny."

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