By Kathleen Nelson
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH
Tuesday, Dec. 12 2006

Beleaguered Bears quarterback Rex Grossman made a national TV audience wonder
what all the fuss was about. He pulled his weight and then some in leading
Chicago to a 42-27 victory over the Rams that clinched a bye in the first round
of the playoffs for the Bears.

Grossman completed 13 of 23 passes for 200 yards with two touchdowns. Most
important, he committed no giveaways for just the second time in two months. He
described his performance as "efficient and decisive. I was able to relax.
There was a lot of pressure on me to perform well. So I had to do it. I wanted
to respond because of the way the coaches have backed me."

For good measure, Grossman added a 22-yard run good for a first down.

"That was fun to do," he said. "I don't do that very often, but I consciously
went into the game thinking that I might have to make a play with my feet."

Though the Bears (11-2) have won consistently this season with Grossman at
quarterback, Grossman has been wildly inconsistent. His passer rating, a
measure of consistency and efficiency, exceeded 100 in four of the Bears' first
seven games. At that point, some experts considered Grossman a candidate for
MVP.

Since October 16, though, Grossman's passer rating has fallen below 50 four of
seven times. The worst was a rating of 1.3 in the Bears' victory over the
Vikings last week. Grossman completed just six of 19 passes for 34 yards with
three interceptions, earning the lowest rating ever for a winning NFL
quarterback.

Yet Bears coach Lovie Smith stood by his man through numerous inquisitions.
Reports from the Bears' practice indicated that Grossman and Brian Griese split
reps with the first unit Thursday and Friday, but that Grossman got about 65
percent of the work Saturday.

"Rex Grossman went through a lot this past week," Smith said. "His game has
been dissected by everyone that knows anything about football. With a lot of
pressure on him, I thought he really stepped up to the plate, played
outstanding ball, did exactly what we expect him to do."

Grossman got ample help from the backfield. Starter Thomas Jones gained 76
yards on 11 carries with one touchdown, while "backup" Cedric Benson gained 64
yards on 16 carries.

"There was a lot of difference this week," Grossman said. "We ran the ball well
and set up a lot of play action. That's the blueprint we've been trying to set
since training camp."

Jones, the older brother of Cowboys running back Julius Jones, topped the
1,000-yard mark Monday for the second time in his career. Smith has hoped to
use the pair more as a tandem, rather than starter and backup, and his plan
seems to be gaining momentum.

"We challenged the offensive line and the rest of the crew to get the running
game going tonight," Smith said. "The guys did a great job with that. Cedric
Benson and Thomas Jones both had excellent games."

Given the offense's precision, kick returner Devin Hester's two touchdown
returns Monday were overkill. Though he was beaten by Torry Holt for the Rams'
first touchdown, Hester ran the ensuing kickoff back 94 yards for a touchdown
and a 7-6 Bears' lead with 12 minutes, 32 second remaining in the second
quarter. He followed with a 96-yard return halfway through the fourth quarter
that made the score 42-20. The touchdown returns were Hester's fifth and sixth
in 46 touches.

A rookie out of Miami, Hester was the Bears' second selection in the 2006
draft, 57th overall.

"I think it's about time we start looking at him as an offensive player," Smith
said. "There are a lot of good offensive rookies right now in the league, but
who has had as much impact as Devin Hester has in the league as a rookie? When
we needed the big plays, he stepped up."