Since Oct. 15 only one team, the Pittsburgh Steelers, has more turnovers (22) than Chicago quarterback Rex Grossman's 18. It appears Bears coach Lovie Smith might have seen enough of Grossman, with multiple reports over the weekend indicating he is preparing to turn the offense over to Brian Griese should Grossman's poor play continue. Griese reportedly took more practice snaps with the first-team offense last week, and Grossman might be playing for his job in the first half of Monday night's game in St. Louis.
But as bad as he's been -- Grossman has fallen from fourth in the league with a 100.9 passer rating after five games to 26th with a 72.0 rating -- it would be a bad idea to put him on a short leash. The Bears should remain patient.
Grossman has enough pressure on him from fans and probably more from himself. He admits to thinking too much and trying too hard. Playing in front of a national television audience with thoughts in the back of his mind of possibly being pulled won't help the situation. Grossman probably will respond to the implicit ultimatum in one of two ways: He'll try to be someone he's not and play too conservatively or, more likely, he'll try even harder and make more mistakes.
The Bears are 10-2 with Grossman as their quarterback. Their remaining opponents -- the Rams on Monday night, followed by the Bucs at home, Lions on the road and Packers at home -- are a combined 15-36. Chicago has a good chance to go 14-2 with Grossman. The Bears' defense and special teams are so good that the Bears can afford for Grossman to play his way out of his funk without jeopardizing the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Chicago's defense and special teams make this team different than most. The Bears earned their last win with Grossman posting a 1.3 passer rating, and as noted by colleague Len Pasquarelli last week, Chicago is 2-2 in games in which his quarterback rating is below 40.0. The rest of the league is 1-26 when their QBs perform that poorly. The defense limits opponents to a league-low 12.5 points per game, and the Bears' league-leading 39 takeaways lead to 44 percent of their scoring. They also have weapons on special teams in kicker Robbie Gould (one missed field goal this season) and rookie returner Devin Hester (a league-leading nine punt returns of 20 yards or longer and three touchdowns).
While Grossman gets his act together, the Bears have enough firepower with their running game, defense and special teams to beat four teams looking at top-15 draft picks next spring. Smith has put up with Grossman's carelessness for two months. He might as well do so for another one, especially now that it's less likely that another team can overtake his. Smith didn't listen to critics when Grossman struggled in the preseason, and Grossman rewarded his coach's loyalty the first five games.
Grossman, regardless of how he performs early, should be allowed to finish Monday night's game. And he should start the next game. And the game after that, and the game after that -- so long as the Bears win or have nothing to lose. Ideally, a team wants to play its best football as it enters the playoffs, and the danger with riding out the storm with Grossman is that if he doesn't turn it around, the offense could end the regular season on a low note. But the Bears always have believed, even when he was injured and wasn't playing, that Grossman was their quarterback. They thought he was the best quarterback for their team to start the season and should give him every opportunity to finish it.
Earlier this season, Grossman made the same fundamental errors and took some of the same chances but got away with them. He said he learned by watching Griese simply run the offense in the preseason. Perhaps having Griese take more practice snaps will help history repeat itself.
Griese doesn't need a lot of time to get ready to run the offense. The nine-year vet is smart. If Grossman doesn't make it happen in this make-or-break month, the Bears still will have two weeks of practice before their first playoff game to work Griese in. If necessary, Griese could relieve Grossman in the second half of that playoff game.
Some say Grossman limits the Bears' potential. This Grossman does. But they're a better team when he plays well than they would be with Griese. The Bears know that, too, or they would have made the switch by now. It isn't as if Griese makes them an automatic entry into Super Bowl XLI. The Bears aren't likely to make a playoff run with Grossman playing the way he's playing, but the playoffs don't start today. There's still time. It's set up for him to get untracked -- none of the Bears' remaining opponents' defenses ranks higher than 16th and each of the last three teams employs the "Tampa 2" scheme Grossman sees every day in practice.
"It's common sense to me that I go out and play well," Grossman, who has six interceptions since his last touchdown pass, said last week. "That's why it's so confusing to me why I'm doing the things I do. It just doesn't make any sense to me."
Grossman isn't seeing the field well these days. The last thing he needs is to be looking over his shoulder.
Michael Smith is a senior writer at ESPN.com.