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It's time for the Bears to bench Grossman

CHICAGO -- Stop here if you've read this before under the byline of the hack columnist cited above. On second thought, don't stop, because we know you've read it before if you've made even a cursory perusal of our meanderings the past several years.

Redundancy aside, it bears repeating: When a team makes a mistake on a first-round draft choice, it is an incredibly painful experience, one that sets a franchise back for years. But when a team whiffs on a quarterback taken in the first round, it hurts to the bone.

Which is why, when the sun rose in Chicago on Monday morning, hours after the Dallas Cowboys had laid waste to the defending NFC champions, Bears officials were aching all the way down to the marrow.

It pains us to concede this but, alas, it is time for the Bears to seek an alternative to Rex Grossman. And not just for a game or two to allow the maligned Bears quarterback a chance to collect himself. Nope, it's simply time to initiate the end of a short-lived era. Or, as one clever headline writer for a Chicago newspaper suggested, to "end an error."

No one, save maybe for Bears general manager Jerry Angelo, coach Lovie Smith and anyone who shares the Grossman surname, has been more defensive of the fifth-year veteran than yours truly. We certainly weren't piloting the Grossman bandwagon, but we might have tugged the pushcart a little in keeping the faith, believing the team's 2003 first-round pick was a quarterback with whom the Bears could win.

To be sure, Grossman was never destined for Canton. But having watched him play at the University of Florida -- where he weathered the withering harangues of the college game's harshest critic of quarterback play, Steve Spurrier -- it seemed to us the kid had all the necessary intangibles to succeed at the NFL level. The redoubtable genius beneath the Gators' visor prepared Grossman for the challenges and rigors of pro football. Had it not been for two severe injuries, the young quarterback would have started a lot of games early in his career.

Instead, the seemingly star-crossed Grossman logged just seven starts in his first three seasons. Not until last season, when the Bears advanced to Super Bowl XLI, was he able to play a full campaign. In the process, he defined the hackneyed term, "roller-coaster ride," producing seven games with a passer rating of 100.0 or better and five outings with an efficiency mark of less than 40.0. No wonder the local scribes referred to "Good Rex" and "Bad Rex."

But in 2007, only "Bad Rex" has shown up on game day. And on Sunday night, all of Grossman's shortcomings were apparent.

To be fair, he didn't get much help from his receivers, who dropped at least four balls and failed to aggressively come back and compete for two other passes. Still, for much of the night, Grossman seemed like a guy trying to skip stones across nearby Lake Michigan, as he threw the ball at the feet of his receivers, two or three strides short of the intended target. It was about as unaesthetic a passing performance as one might conjure up, rendered worse by the fact Grossman's counterpart, Tony Romo of the Cowboys, was lighting things up on prime-time television.

So desperate were the Bears that it seemed their best strategy was to try to hold the Cowboys to field goals, then hope return man extraordinaire Devin Hester ran back the subsequent kickoff for a touchdown. Even Hester seemed to sense he was Chicago's only hope for generating points, because he kept trying to run back every kick, even those that were several yards deep in the end zone.

Had Dallas kicker Nick Folk booted the ball into the Shedd Aquarium across the street from Soldier Field, Hester might have dived into the shark tank after it, hoping to swim his way to a touchdown.

Except for one brief third-quarter flurry, when Grossman connected with veteran tight end Desmond Clark for 52 yards, and then with rookie tight end Greg Olsen for 21 yards on the ensuing play, the Chicago quarterback was never in rhythm … unless you consider rhythm to be the cacophony of an orchestra warming its instruments just before the curtain rises.

For the feisty Grossman, though, it might be time for the curtain to fall. He hasn't rung up a quarterback rating higher than 56.0 in any of the three games this season. On Sunday, he posted a microscopic passer mark of 27.5 -- and that was only the fifth-lowest rating in Grossman's 26 career starts. In 2006, he registered anemic ratings of 23.7, 10.2, 1.3 and 0.0 in four games. No, those are not typos. Yet the Bears still went to the Super Bowl.

But that was then and this is now.

The Bears are now operating with precious little margin for error. They trail resurgent Green Bay by two games in the NFC North, and it doesn't appear that the wounded defense -- which entered Sunday minus two starters out for the year, and finished it with three more on the sideline -- is capable of compensating for the offensive liabilities.

Veteran backup Brian Griese is a journeyman, but perhaps more important, he's not Rex Grossman. That might be enough to move him into the starter's role. Smith said he would announce his starter on Wednesday.

Yet even if the Bears switch quarterbacks, in the long run, it's still just applying a band-aid when major surgery is needed. The Bears, whose history largely has been marked by debates over the quarterback position, need a long-term remedy. That probably means choosing a quarterback in the first round next April.

And that probably means getting it right this time.

Len Pasquarelli is a senior writer for ESPN.com.