CHICAGO – Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner spent part of Sunday night talking about momentum and confidence, two fickle things that can come and go with a blink.
Right now, the Bears seem to have neither, and by Monday night, their absence could cost quarterback Rex Grossman his job.
Grossman threw three interceptions and suffered through yet another debacle on a nationally-televised stage Sunday, this time in an embarrassing 34-10 loss to the Dallas Cowboys that could ultimately be a defining moment for the 2007 season. By Sunday night, Grossman's job security appeared to be in absolute peril, though the coaching staff steadfastly maintained that no decisions would be made until Sunday's film could be reviewed.
When the study commences, what the coaches find likely won't be pretty. Grossman's night was emblematic of his worst days as a starting quarterback – marked by poor timing and bad decisions. Making matters worse, three defensive starters left Sunday night's game and did not return: linebacker Lance Briggs (groin), cornerback Nathan Vasher (groin) and defensive tackle Tommie Harris (knee).
Coupled with Grossman's problems and the Bears' 1-2 start – not to mention what appears to be a very competitive NFC North – is any thoughts of a fairytale start after last season's Super Bowl run have been erased.
"Are we surprised? Of course we're surprised," Bears wide receiver Bernard Berrian said. "I couldn't tell you what the problem is right now. I really can't."
While Berrian and other Bears can only shrug, Sunday night's statistics seem to paint a pretty clear picture of the team's No. 1 issue, and it starts with Grossman. Despite playing against a Dallas secondary that had given up 599 passing yards and six touchdowns in the first two games of the season, Chicago was never able to piece together a cohesive passing game against Dallas. If anything, the Bears took a step backward, getting pounded in Soldier Field and watching Grossman post a 27.5 quarterback rating, including a trio of interceptions (one of which was returned for a touchdown).
It was a familiar sight – the darker side of Grossman that has been dubbed "Good Rex/Bad Rex". But Sunday's performance had devastating implications for a Bears team that suddenly doesn't look anything close to the dominant form it sometimes displayed last season. Not only did Chicago lose to a Cowboys team that now has to be considered the new epicenter of the NFC, it leaves a lingering question about where the Bears stand. Thus far, Chicago has lost to a San Diego team that is 1-2 and struggling, and beaten a Kansas City team that appears destined for a losing season.
Worse yet for the franchise, it's gotten to the point where the "Good Rex/Bad Rex" moniker is no longer accurate. This franchise has seen Grossman vacillate between "Average Rex" and "Awful Rex" for the last eight games. In fact, in Grossman's last 17 contests (including the postseason) dating back to Oct. 16 of last season, he's stacked up an atrocious 25 interceptions to 18 touchdown passes.
And if you remove Grossman's four best outings in that span, when he threw 10 touchdowns and only one interception, you are left with 13 games in which Grossman has put up eight touchdown passes against twenty-four interceptions. Factor in his seven lost fumbles and he's turned the ball over a mind-boggling 32 times in his last 17 games.
"It's on my shoulders as well," Grossman said after the loss to Dallas. "I have to take care of the football. I have to start making plays (and) do what I do best. I have to make plays down the field, but I have to stop turning the ball over. That's the key. There's a fine line there and I definitely need to start playing better.
"It's something that I feel is almost there. We're right there, and still not productive. It's frustrating."
How much longer Grossman will have to worry about that frustration is open for debate. Clearly there are signs of a move toward benching him. The coaching staff said it was keeping all options on the table after Sunday's loss, though Smith tried to couch the significance on Grossman's job by saying that "all positions" were open to scrutiny.
Grossman refused to comment on the security of his job, and backup quarterback Brian Griese was gone when the team opened the locker room to the media following Sunday's loss. But there were few words of resounding support for the embattled starter Sunday night. While Lovie Smith threw out his standard "Rex is our quarterback line" after the loss, he snuck in the "we still have to see the film" qualifier.
But a change seems almost inevitable, if not absolutely necessary. Grossman's scrutiny and documented failings have come to transcend the typical sufferings of a quarterback. His job performance is derided on a regular basis in all forms of media, both nationally and in Chicago. In many ways, his struggles have grown into a soap opera with an unending cycle. After the season-opening loss to San Diego, Chargers linebacker Matt Wilhelm told reporters that former Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera told his players during pre-game preparations that Grossman was "kind of a mental midget." Rivera later denied it, but defensive players in San Diego's locker room didn't go out of their way to refute Wilhelm's claim.
Even early last week, when Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb was going through his own public mess for suggesting black quarterbacks are more scrutinized than white quarterbacks, he added in a conversation with the media that he didn't think anyone took more shots than Rex Grossman.
Whether Grossman gets the hook after this game may be academic. Few factors appear to be working in his favor. The reality that the Bears have no financial investment in him beyond this season, and thus aren't forced by salary implications to give him repeated chances to fail. The fact that Chicago didn't give him a contract extension in the offseason sent a message: Grossman started 2007 playing for his future with the team. And it very well may have ended Sunday night.
And some of his teammates didn't rush to offer support when presented with that idea. When wideout Muhsin Muhammad was asked if he thought it was unfair that Grossman would take all the blame for the Dallas loss, he gave a calculated, but ambiguous answer.
"It comes with the territory," Muhammad said. "I've said that over and over again. I'm glad that I catch balls for a living and don't throw them. It's a tough position to be in. Rex is a guy that handles the ball every single snap. A lot of the offense's success or lack of success or non-success is going to fall on his shoulders. Is it unfortunate? Yeah, it's unfortunate. He's probably going to get blamed a bunch. I heard some boos from the crowd and the fans and stuff like that. It's just a tough spot to be in."
Chicago's fortunes are suddenly in a tough spot, too. Two defensive starters – safety Mike Brown and defensive tackle Dusty Dvoracek – are already out for the season. One of their big free agent signings, safety Adam Archuleta, had the kind of performance Sunday that ultimately got him demoted to the third-string defense in Washington last season. And now Briggs, Vasher and Harris have to undergo tests to determine the severity of their latest injuries.
But the road to the rest of this season appears to start with Grossman's job status. Every issue after that has seemingly become a secondary concern. As Berrian said, "Something has got to change. We all got to change. We all got to do better."
But that change may have to start in one place: the quarterback.