Smith on struggling Grossman: 'You get better playing'

LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Let the fans boo and the critics
ramble. Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith refused to budge Monday.
He's sticking with Rex Grossman as his starting quarterback.

A day after the Bears wrapped up their second straight NFC North
championship, Grossman's lowly performance in a 23-13 win over the
Vikings was still the main topic. A 1.3 quarterback rating and
three more interceptions increased the clamoring for a change to
veteran Brian Griese.

Grossman's shaky outing took the edge off clinching a playoff
spot and left many wondering if he could return to the way he
played the first five weeks of the season instead of continuing on
his present course.

"We are not making a change. ... Rex didn't play as well as he
needed to yesterday. It was a bad game for us, bad game for Rex,"
Smith said Monday after reviewing tape.

Grossman was booed in the preseason but won NFC offensive player
of the month for September. In his first five games, he threw for
10 touchdowns and three interceptions.

But in a Monday night game at Arizona when the Bears rallied for
a 24-23 victory, the Cardinals pressured Grossman into four
interceptions, showing other teams how to attack the Bears
defensively. Grossman then had a rash of turnovers in losses to
Miami and New England. In the last seven games, he has eight TD
passes and 14 INTs.

"I'm thinking too much, trying to analyze things too much and
making it more complicated than it is," Grossman said Sunday after
completing 6 of 19 passes for 34 yards. "It's a lot easier when
you just go and play and react."

Smith said Grossman hasn't lost his confidence but it's obvious
he's thinking about his play. And sitting Grossman down for a
couple of games wouldn't resolve the issue, the coach said.

"I just don't know how much you get from the sidelines. I think
you get better playing," Smith said.

Offensive coordinator Ron Turner suggested that Grossman could
turn it around as quickly as his play has soured over the last
several weeks. That seems to be what the Bears are looking for in
their patient approach with their young quarterback.

"I've seen Rex play well. And that's what you have to go on. We
have a lot of football left to go, we're just getting ready to
start the last quarter of the season," Smith said. "I think he
will get back to that point."

The Bears (10-2) still have plenty to play for -- best record in
the NFC and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They play
at St. Louis on Monday and if they win, coupled with losses by the
Cowboys and Seahawks, they will secure a first-round bye.

With the passing game struggling, the Bears relied once again on
a defense that came up with four interceptions of Brad Johnson and
the spectacular return ability of rookie Devin Hester.

Hester returned a punt 45 yards for a score and now has four
returns for TDs this season -- three punts and one missed field goal
-- to tie an NFL record. And now he's getting a chance at kickoff
returns, too.

"We need to get his hands on the football as much as we
possibly can. I think it is safe to say we'll give him a few more
shots back there," Smith said.

The Bears' defense came up with five turnovers Sunday and
Chicago now has 39 takeaways in 12 games. But the Bears were also
vulnerable to the run as the Vikings rolled up 192 yards rushing.

That could be even more of a problem if Pro Bowl defensive
tackle Tommie Harris is out for an extended period of time. Harris
had an MRI Monday after spraining his left knee in the third
quarter Sunday. Smith said he doesn't know how long Harris will be
out but added that the injury is not season-ending.

The Bears are also watching Pro Bowl cornerback Nathan Vasher,
who hurt his hamstring Sunday.

Healing the injuries and getting home field advantage are
priorities in the final month when the Bears play four teams with
losing records.

But getting Grossman straightened out might be even bigger.

"That's about all I can tell you about it right now is that we
realize we have to get better at the position," Smith said.

"We can't make the mistakes that we made. But Rex is our
starting quarterback and we're trying to get him better."