That was Jan. 10, 2004, before Steve Smith and the Carolina Panthers beat Smith's defense and sent him home for the winter -- the first time -- with a 29-23 double-overtime victory over St. Louis in the NFC Divisional playoffs.
Will Smith's faith in Rex Grossman be justified? If not, can Brian Griese do enough so the Bears' offense complements more than complicates the league's most opportunistic defense?
Last week, the Bears wondered enough to get Griese ready just in case they need him to replace Grossman in the second half -- and just maybe for the rest of the season.
One report estimated Griese took half the snaps in practice. Another, , countered that it was closer to one-third -- a slight increase from the usual workload as a source indicated Thursday the plan would be. After Grossman's 1.3 passer rating against Minnesota, the big surprise would have been if Griese's practice plan hadn't changed.
The only thing that really matters is that Griese won't take the first snap against the Rams. Grossman gets another chance to keep his job in making his 13th straight start.
Remember when starting was enough for Grossman to please people?
Will Grossman take all of the snaps Monday? Will Griese take over for the second half and possibly for good?
It's been a week full of more questions than answers. Here are a few more.
Why do you think Lovie seems to have blind loyalty and no competition with Rex Grossman? Can it be from GM Jerry Angelo's orders, the guy who drafted Grossman? --Ron Smith, Platteville, Wis.
The conspiracy theorists have lined up this week suggesting that Angelo has issued an edict that Smith play Grossman over Griese. Can't agree, but then I think Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, too. But as for Angelo and Smith, the two men have been in philosophical lock-step on so many personnel issues that it's pretty clear they think alike and that's a big reason for the Bears' success in building their 53-man roster. Without evidence to prove otherwise, it sounds like a flawed theory anyway because Angelo would be credited if Griese succeeds because he's the one who anted up a $5 million bonus to secure a quality backup. So he has no reason to order Griese to stay on the sidelines.
Yes, Angelo needs a first-round pick to succeed (Grossman will be his only active first-rounder Monday now that Tommie Harris is out) but not at the expense of holding one of his free-agent acquisitions back. It's a shared football decision. Both men simply believe that Grossman has a higher upside and, with a 10-2 record, can afford one more start to see if he can regain the form that made the Bears the NFL's highest-scoring offense in the first half of the season.
Isn't the premise of your -- that Lovie Smith is inflexible to the point of denial -- contradicted by the way he's handled playing time and roster spots over the past two-plus seasons? Chad Hutchinson didn't even make it out of the preseason last year and Lovie benched Kyle Orton in December last year. It only took one bad start for Mike Green to find himself on the bench (and on the way out town) last year in favor of Chris Harris, a late-round pick. Doug Brien got only four kicks last year before he got the boot. I think the team has been fairly consistent in the past of not playing guys based on their draft position or signing bonus, which hasn't been the case in previous regimes. --Jason Lindquist, Cincinnati
You make valid points and use good examples. But, with due respect to all of those players and the resulting personnel decisions, none of them shaped the reputation of Smith as much as last year's Carolina playoff loss and this year's quarterback quandary. Every head coach makes the type of tough decisions you cite, and indeed Smith indicated he was a guy who was not afraid to make changes quickly for the sake of the team. Big decisions separate good and great head coaches and define legacies. For the most demanding of Bears fans, the ones who want the franchise's first Super Bowl in 21 years, Smith's tenure in Chicago began last postseason. The Bears' inability or unwillingness to adjust to Carolina's passing game and Steve Smith raised doubts about Smith's flexibility that linger. In that context, the rigidity in not even showing the slightest form of disappointment or urgency in Grossman's recent poor play was reminiscent of that day in January when the coaching staff changed nothing -- and paid the price.
Why didn't the Bears try to sign Tony Parrish? The Cowboys obviously thought he could help them on the road to the playoffs. Although I like his defensive drafts, it seems like Jerry Angelo is just two steps behind on free agent acquisitions. --Cory Neeley, Madison, Wis.
The Cowboys claimed Parrish before the Bears had the chance and maybe they did so with the thought of preventing him from shoring up the Bears' run defense. But the safety, though still popular in Chicago, was coming off a bad broken leg and also carried a pricey contract for the rest of the season. The Bears also like their young, affordable depth at strong safety, with Chris Harris coming on last week with 13 tackles and Todd Johnson playing well before his injury at New England.
It seems to me that Cedric Benson is running with some real authority now, running through tackles, dragging defenders with him and showing a nice burst on the touchdown. What are the chance we see Benson get 20-plus carries against the Rams? --Keith Wallace, Edinburgh, Scotland
If Benson gets 20 carries Monday night against the Rams, he will register the first 100-yard game of his NFL career. Against St. Louis' second-worst NFL rushing defense, that's almost as safe as saying it won't rain at Monday night's game -- inside the Edward Jones Dome. Benson has run like a back with something to prove the past two weeks which is appropriate, because the former No. 4 pick of the 2005 NFL draft still does.
What happened at the end of the game when Grossman threw a pass on 3rd and long and 2:48 left in the game? Did offensive coordinator Ron Turner send in the play or is Grossman just gun-slinging to look impressive? Only 6 seconds came off the clock instead of a run that would have kept the clock running. The coaches are not being smart or Grossman is being arrogant. What's happening? --Ray Geiselman, Glasgow, Ky.
That pass seemed to bother some people; I argued on the air with WMVP-AM co-host Carmen DeFalco after he accused the Bears of putting Grossman's needs in front of the team's. To which I say: With a 10-point lead and the NFC's No. 1 defense playing at home, why not? At that juncture with the game well in hand, the most critical player in the offense's development does matter more than the 52 other guys' on the roster. If that were not the case, there would not have been such a debate over the quarterback position last week. If the goal on that play was to get Grossman a measure of confidence to take into the next week, Turner should be applauded, not criticized. DeFalco may come to realize that about the time he sees the error of his ways when it comes to picking on Ben Gordon of the Bulls too.
Did Rex Grossman shake anyone's hand in a show of sportsmanship or class after the game or did he run right into the locker room? --Jaye, Chicago
I only saw that captured from the TV in the interview room and it appeared Grossman made a beeline for the locker room, which seemed like an acceptable reaction. He had just endured his worst day, he risked being drawn into a verbal altercation given the Vikings' history of taunting, and it was freezing cold. It might have looked classless, but he also was on the field taking a knee and easily could have said whatever he needed to say before or after either of the final two snaps. He did not address it last week -- there was too much else to worry about.
What happened to Mark Bradley? He had two great games back to back against the New York teams but has been almost a non-factor in the following two. Is it more attributable to Rex Grossman's poor play or is it something he's doing wrong? --Marty Stempniak, Oak Park, Ill.
Don't forget Bernard Berrian's role in Bradley's decline in production. Berrian has nine catches for 125 yards in the past two weeks when he has been Grossman's favorite target. Bradley did what good backups do: He earned the coaches' trust by filling in with a big play. But Berrian has been the Bears' most dangerous all-around receiver this season and, once healthy, it made no sense to keep him off the field. The Bears did discuss using Bradley and Berrian together on 3-receiver sets but favor Rashied Davis in the slot because of his shiftiness and familiarity with the position.
Didn't Mike Holmgren go through similar growing pains with Brett Favre like the Bears are now with Grossman? How does Grossman get his confidence back? --Bill Fitzgibbon, Roanoke, Va.
Grossman has shown Favre tendencies in his approach, but let's be fair about those comparisons. Yes, Favre struggled too but not to this extent. The best way for Grossman to regain his confidence is to ignore all the comparisons, the numbers crunching, the chatter, and just do the things that made him a Heisman Trophy runner-up in college and the best quarterback in the NFC through five games this season.
Is it just me or is Nathan Vasher missing a lot of key tackles this season? --Matt Allen, Bloomington, Ill.
If Vasher made a living based on how well he made tackles, he would need a second job. He has 39 tackles -- 28 fewer than his counterpart at left cornerback, Charles Tillman -- and has been exposed in the open field. He whiffed twice against the Vikings when he failed to break down and looked like he wanted to be anyplace else but in the way. That would make Vasher far from the first cornerback to shy away from contact, but in a Cover 2 scheme the Bears would like to be able to count on an All-Pro cornerback to tackle soundly.
Can you please explain to me why Ron Turner keeps giving Rex the option of going deep on plays when Rex hasn't gotten into any type of rhythm? It seems to me earlier in the season when Rex was performing a lot better he had some type of rhythm prior to throwing the deep ball. Why is it that Turner is still sending receivers on double-move, go routes when instead he should be calling some shorter 15-20 yard slant routes and post routes especially early in the game? --Dennis Bonner, Minneapolis, Minn.
You can't eliminate the double-move routes and the deep threat must remain in the package or else teams will not respect it and have an easier time stopping the run. But, agreed, the Bears could do a better job of getting Grossman in rhythm quicker by finding the tight ends and backs on short, safe passes. When they do go deep or look intermediate, they also could stop trying to rely so heavily on the skinny post route safeties seem to be sitting on and making plays.