If only the Bears had finished Saturday night's 31-28 exhibition victory over the 49ers with the biggest concerns about Rex Grossman being his ability to handle the quarterback-center exchange.
Those worries, resurfacing when Grossman dropped the snap from Olin Kreutz on the 11th offensive play, could have been dismissed after a 31-point outburst as correctable. Isolated. Even exaggerated.
Lovie Smith went so far as to attempt a joke when addressing that (non-)issue afterward.
"We had a couple of fumbled snaps [against the Colts], we had one [against the 49ers], so we're making progress, that's how I see it," Smith said with a straight face.
Good to see Smith's sense of humor in midseason form. But Grossman's interception, which 49ers cornerback Walt Harris returned 52 yards for a touchdown with 3 minutes 13 seconds left in the second quarter, was no laughing matter.
The pass, intended for tight end Greg Olsen, never should have been thrown even if the Bears did lead 24-7. It resembled the type of mistake that marked Grossman's wildly inconsistent 2006 season.
The fans' boos after Grossman fumbled a snap were much louder than they were after Harris' interception. Maybe the first bad play made them angry and the second just made them anxious.
It only bothered the Bears to be asked about it.
"Obviously, we don't want to turn the ball over for a touchdown, and we're going to work hard at getting those out of the way," offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. "But [Grossman] played well, and I don't know why anyone would focus on the one bad play. Rex is a hell of a football player."
Indeed he is, and the Bears just might have to accept the reality that he can be as bad one series as he is good the next, and vice versa. But anytime Grossman wants to stop driving that point home, it would be fine with Bears fans.
Four plays after the Harris pick, for example, Grossman nearly gave it away again when outside linebacker Manny Lawson stepped in front of intended receiver Jason McKie but dropped what could have been another returned TD.
"You say it almost got picked, but it didn't," Turner said, interrupting a questioner after the game.
Preseason or not, Grossman's interceptions left as deep an impression as his two TD passes and downfield accuracy because they looked all too familiar. Grossman had interceptions returned for scores last season against Minnesota, Miami and Green Bay.
This year, improved fundamentals were supposed to put off that first interception return for a TD long enough so it seemed like an aberration rather than the continuation of a trend. This year, the Bears' support of Grossman cannot be unconditional and still be the best thing for the team.
Grossman is too good, and potentially even great in stretches, for the Bears not to apply some tough love to snuff out a pattern before it begins all over again.
The September schedule of San Diego on the road followed by home dates against Kansas City and Dallas — all potential playoff teams — poses too big a challenge early for the Bears to take Grossman's erratic throwing display against the 49ers lightly. Ball security will matter.
The 49ers are a bad defense that barely pressured Grossman. The mistakes weren't because of pass rushers bearing down on him the way San Diego's and Dallas' will.
Granted, questioning whether Grossman truly has improved after an exhibition game in which he competed 13 of 20 passes for 211 yards and posted a passer rating of 112.7 risks being unfair. Truth is, neither Brian Griese nor Kyle Orton is capable of making some of the throws that exploded out of Grossman's arm.
"When you do score 31 points in a half, it's pretty good," Grossman pointed out.
Bears 31, 49ers 28
Performance still rates as shaky
Grossman posts 112.7 passer mark, but it's hard to overlook his all-too-familiar flaws
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