The Obvious Choice

Lake Forest - A day after playing in his first regular-season game in 15 months, Bears quarterback Rex Grossman still looked and sounded like a 6-year-old with a pony on Christmas morning.

"I didn't quite realize what exactly happened until I was driving home (Sunday night), but it was one of those things that I'll never forget, running back out on the field," Grossman said. "Having gone through a couple injuries and having the crowd support and being able to go down and score a touchdown, even though there was a lucky play there, we still scored a touchdown and it was fun."

Grossman was officially named the starter by coach Lovie Smith on Monday afternoon. But that was a given after the way he fired up his team and the Soldier Field crowd in the second half of Sunday night's 16-3 victory over the Falcons by directing two scoring drives in his first quarter of play and turning a shaky 6-3 lead into a comfortable victory.

"It's great," he gushed. "I'm playing. I'm getting a chance to most likely start a playoff game. That's everyone's dream for a quarterback in this league, to get a chance to play in the playoffs and possibly go to the Super Bowl."

Grossman will lead the Bears against the Packers on Christmas Day at Lambeau Field, and they can clinch the NFC North title with a win. In his only other appearance there, Grossman helped lead the Bears to a 21-10 victory on Sept. 19, 2004, a week before he suffered a season-ending torn ACL In his right knee. A fractured ankle in the Bears' second preseason game delayed his 2005 regular-season debut on Aug. 12.

"Christmas Day in Green Bay. I'm kind of rhyming there," the three-year veteran said with a smile. "It'll be fun just to start again, and once again play against a legend (Brett Favre) I grew up admiring. It's just going to be a great time. I'm really looking forward to getting back out there, and having had a victory there, it might help psychologically."

Sunday's start will be just the seventh in Grossman's injury-marred NFL career. But coordinator Ron Turner's offense was installed last spring and summer assuming Grossman would be running it. Although Grossman discouraged speculation that he will be the missing piece to the Bears' playoff puzzle, his presence gave a psychological shot to a Bears offense that hasn't scored more than 20 points in any of its last eight games.

"Rex is a special guy," wide receiver Bernard Berrian said. "He's a special quarterback, and he's only going to get better. There's definitely no rust. The receivers could tell. We were watching the highlights on the third-quarter recap, just talking among ourselves, like, 'Yeah, we got a quarterback.' I'm really happy for him because he's gone through some things. It's been two years (of injuries), so for him to go out there and move the ball like he did, that's real good."

Bears coach Lovie Smith downplayed any risk in anointing Grossman the starter when rookie Kyle Orton has started all 10 of the Bears' victories.

"I think you try to give your team the best chance to win, period," Smith said. "There are risks involved with everything. There are rewards for things like that, too. As a football staff, we feel like Rex gives us our best chance to win."

Turner was involved with Smith in the decision to go with Grossman, and he said it was the logical move to make. The Bears generated just 101 yards of total offense in the first half and failed to convert any of their seven third-down opportunities, leaving them with just 10 conversions in their last 58 third-down attempts, a 17.2 percent success rate. The league average is 37.9 percent. Under Grossman, the Bears converted 3 of 8 third downs - 37.5 percent.

"Even though we were up 6-3, we just weren't making plays like we need to make them, and so we put Rex in just to try to get a spark," Turner said. "I think it worked. I think everybody got fired up and got excited. He's our starter, and to have your starter back, who's been out all year, I think it was a real plus for everybody."

Smith could not be blamed, however, for holding his breath every time Grossman gets hit or leaves the pocket. He's been injured in each of his three NFL seasons, including a fractured finger his rookie year.

"There is always a concern with anyone who has been injured before, but we feel like he is ready to go," Smith said. "Injuries happen at all times. The only thing you can do is try to protect yourself at all positions, but the only way you can do that is by having strength in your numbers. We feel good about our three quarterbacks."

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