Cut off at the pass

James C. Black
Yahoo! Sports

MIAMI – Rex Grossman only had a few minutes to absorb the disappointment of his biggest loss on the football field, to take stock off all that didn't go right, before he was questioned on whether his starting job with the Chicago Bears was safe next season.

"All I can talk about is this game right now," Grossman said.

That wasn't any easier a topic for Grossman or the Bears.

Grossman threw two fourth-quarter interceptions, the first returned 56 yards for a touchdown to cap the scoring, as the Bears lost to the Indianapolis Colts 29-17 in Super Bowl XLI at Dolphin Stadium on Sunday night. The error-prone performance capped a tide-turning season in which Grossman went from an early MVP candidate to the NFL's most scrutinized quarterback on a playoff team … perhaps ever.

"When you turn the ball over as much as we did [Sunday] it's really hard to win," Bears coach Lovie Smith said.

Against the Colts, the Bears didn't just turn over the ball. They gave it away in crucial situations that drastically changed the complexion of the game.

Grossman's latest turnover tale started right before halftime when he pulled away from center without a tight grasp on the ball and lost the fumble in Chicago territory. The turnover was inconsequential as "Mr. Automatic" – Adam Vinatieri – missed a 36-yard field goal as the first half expired. However, the Bears weren't so fortunate in the fourth quarter.

Grossman, with Chicago trailing 22-17 and trying to pick on second-year Colts cornerback Kelvin Hayden, sought out wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad down the right sideline.

"I was running a fade, but it was kind of under thrown," said Muhammad, who pulled in a four-yard scoring reception from Grossman in the second quarter.

Muhammad went inside on the play before cutting back toward the sideline, but Grossman led his receiver too far and forced Muhammad to chase after the ball.

"I was giving 'the Moose' a chance to go up and battle for it on kind of a hitch-and-go," Grossman explained. "The corner got his eyes around and saw the ball and made a good play on it."

The continuation of the "good" play entailed Hayden tip-toeing the sideline before finding some blockers and a clear path to the end zone.

"All week we were talking about how they get their big plays on the deep routes," said Hayden, who recorded his first career interception. "I was just glad that I had the fundamentals and I am glad to just make the play."

It was a painful reminder for Bears' backers and Grossman critics of why the quarterback had come under fire in the second half of the season.

The Grossman bashing began after Week 6 when he committed six turnovers and posted a 10.2 passer rating in a nationally televised victory over Arizona. Support for Grossman seemed to further erode after he had a combined passer rating of 25.0 with seven turnovers in games against the Patriots and Vikings in Weeks 12 and 13, respectively.

Even with the Bears having home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs wrapped up, calls for Smith to start backup Brian Griese persisted – especially when Grossman posted a 0.0 passer rating in the season finale against Green Bay and later acknowledged that he was a little distracted going into the contest because he was thinking about New Year's Eve plans.

"It [criticism] comes with the territory," Muhammad said. "He's a starting quarterback in the NFL."

Until Sunday, the much-maligned quarterback had done a much better job of protecting the ball in the postseason, with the exception of a fumble that led to a touchdown in the NFC divisional playoffs against the Seahawks.

But on the Bears' possession after Hayden's fourth-quarter touchdown, Grossman was intercepted again – this time by Bob Sanders – to essentially end any hopes of Chicago capturing its first Super Bowl title since 1986.

Bears receiver Bernard Berrian – the intended target on the second interception – is tired of hearing about the "Grossman factor."

"It's not the Chicago Grossmans. It's the Chicago Bears," said Berrian, who was held to just four catches for 38 yards. "We lost this as a team."

A team whose quarterback accounted for at least three turnovers in all four of the Bears' losses this season.