Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Smith Could No Longer Defend Grossman
Rex Grossman has every right to be sad today. He should be disappointed, he should be angry, he should be miserable. But as far as Lovie Smith is concerned, Grossman should be nothing but thankful. The last time a coach displayed this much loyalty toward someone so embattled, Gene Hackman was befriending Dennis Hopper in 'Hoosiers.' In Grossman's time of despair, Smith did everything short of nominating him for NFL Man of the Year. Even when the Bears fell one win shy of a championship last season, Grossman's critics demanded his ouster as Chicago's starting quarterback.Smith stood firm. He heard the growing howls of protest and wheeled out his favorite mantra: 'Rex is our quarterback.' Then the former Gator standout went out and averaged a mere 5.7 yards per pass attempt in the two biggest games of the 2006 season. The Bears trounced the Saints in the NFC title game, even as Grossman completed only 11 of 26 passes. On the biggest stage of all, Grossman threw for 165 yards and was intercepted twice against Indianapolis in a 29-17 Super Bowl setback. He couldn't sustain any momentum forged by Devin Hester's 92-yard touchdown return on the opening kickoff. Still, Smith clenched his jaw and stuck with his young gun. But Tampa Bay's former linebackers coach ran out of bullets this year as Chicago stumbled to a 1-2 start. He couldn't defend Grossman anymore. But Lord, how he tried. How can you explain away a 45.2 passer rating, ranked 33rd in a 34-man field of NFL quarterbacks? The details were even more depressing as Grossman sat last in the NFC in third-down passing and fourth-quarter passing. In crunch time, Grossman was gross. For the first time, Smith became convinced he could lose 52 other players if he kept sticking up for No. 8. All this time, Brian Griese was silently stewing. He had helped the Bucs to a 5-1 getaway in 2005, only to lose his starting position to Chris Simms following knee surgery. Now, this is Griese's job to lose. 'Brian is our quarterback,' Smith said this week. 'The starting rotation has been established now.' With 33 turnovers in his last 17 starts, Grossman had little to offer in rebuttal. Few other coaches would have stuck with him for this long, so if Grossman feels betrayed this morning, get over it. 'I've been where Rex is,' Griese said. 'I have a lot of respect for Rex and the way that he's handled it.' With Green Bay off to a 3-0 start and Brett Favre matching his passion with precision, the Bears couldn't afford to dig a deeper hole. Griese was 9-7 as a starter in Tampa and he always has been an accurate medium-range passer. If he's anywhere near as smart as his father, Hall of Fame quarterback Bob Griese, Brian realizes the Bears don't need him to be a savior. A careful caretaker will do just fine. Chicago's injury-ravaged defense still can be a force if Griese can keep mistakes to a minimum. Special teams are superb and a solid offensive line needs someone in the pocket they can believe in, someone who can deliver the ball on time. Anyone who suggests Grossman wasn't ably supported by Smith hasn't watched the Bears in recent years. On too many occasions, Chicago won in spite of Grossman's efforts. Grossman's future in the Windy City is up in the air. He's probably done in Chicago, but that doesn't mean he won't find his kind of town somewhere else. Loyalty goes only so far in pro sports ... and that's the way it should be. At some point, performance rules the day and a coaching staff has to make the tough calls. Grossman's erratic play was undermining the team, and if Smith sat back and kept Griese chained to the sidelines for another week, Chicago fans would have transferred their wrath from Grossman to Smith. Only a week ago, 'Rex is our quarterback' was the word on the streets of Chicago. That ship has sailed. It's Griese's time to steer. We'll see how the blocking fares in front of him. At least Griese knows Smith has his back.