Grossman comes through in biggest game


CHICAGO (AP) – This was one wild throw that Rex Grossman enjoyed.

A trip to the Super Bowl secured, the oft-criticized Chicago quarterback knelt down to run out the clock, then heaved the ball far into the stands at Soldier Field.

“Going to Miami, that’s unbelievable,” Grossman said after the Bears beat the New Orleans Saints 39-14 Sunday in the NFC championship game. “I mean, it doesn’t get any better than this right now. “

Chicago will play for the NFL title for the first time in 21 years. When the Bears made their only other appearance in 1986 behind a quirky quarterback named Jim McMahon, Grossman was 5 years old.

Poised and proficient when he needed to be, Grossman’s numbers – 11 of 26 for 144 yards – certainly weren’t great. But on this snowy day, they didn’t have to be for most of the afternoon. And most importantly for the Bears, he played error free.

Grossman was just 3-for-12 for 37 yards at the half and the Bears twice settled for field goals after getting inside the New Orleans’ 10. A couple throws were dropped, a couple off-target. But still the Bears led 16-7.

“I was a little conservative in the first half,” Grossman said. “I didn’t want to make a mistake. … We missed a few plays and wished we had touchdowns.”

But when Chicago’s running game momentarily bogged down in the second half and the game got tight, Grossman stepped up with pinpoint passes. He completed four throws in a row, three of them to speedy Bernard Berrian during a quick five-play, 85-yard drive.

Grossman lofted a pass into the snowflakes and the ball fell into the arms of a tumbling Berrian, who beat Fred Thomas for a 33-yard TD early in the fourth quarter. That made it 25-14, and the Bears were on their way.

“We felt like we could get behind him all game and then he covered it pretty well. Bernard just saw the ball in the air and made a great play. That was huge for our momentum at that point,” Grossman said.

“That was my best drive of the game. All game I had been making good decisions and I had just missed a few throws.”

After struggling in the regular-season finale against Green Bay – his quarterback rating was 0.0 and he admitted he wasn’t as prepared as he should have been – Grossman came back last week in the playoff opener against Seattle and threw for 282 yards.

“I told him numerous times, ‘Don’t worry what’s being said on the outside. You know what you can do. I know what you can do. People in that locker room know what you can do. Listen to the people in this locker room, listen to us,”‘ offensive coordinator Ron Turner said.

The victory over New Orleans capped Grossman’s shaky path to the Super Bowl.

“Redemption and all that, I mean, that’s for you guys to write about,” Grossman said. “We’ve got one more win before we can call ourselves world champions.”

Grossman sat out most of his rookie season after he was taken in the first round from Florida. He was injured for most of the next two years with a torn knee ligament and broken ankle. In his first three seasons, he also had to work with three different offensive coordinators.

During long hours of rehabilitation to overcome his injuries, Grossman said he never gave up on leading the Bears to the Super Bowl.

“You know when you have a special team and that’s what makes you work that much harder in the offseason to get back healthy or get back stronger,” he said

This season was full of up-and-down performances, yet in the end he tuned out his critics and helped bring the Bears to the brink of the NFL championship.

“When we asked him to do it, he has. He’s a winner. I don’t know what his career record is, I don’t care what his stats are, he’s a winner,” star linebacker Brian Urlacher said.

Grossman is 17-6 as a regular-season starter and now 2-1 in the playoffs. He didn’t try to overdo anything Sunday, manage the game, let the running game control the tempo and throw it when needed.

“I’m really excited for coach Smith and Rex Grossman – I mean, the things he’s had to go through,” Bears running back Thomas Jones said. “We’ve overcome a lot of doubters, but we’re here, we made it and it’s definitely a great feeling.”