Stuck in Neutral

MINNEAPOLIS - Even though quarterback Rex Grossman didn't get to play, this trip to the Metrodome was better than the last one, when he suffered a ruptured ACL In his right knee on Sept. 26, 2004.

"I'm OK with it, and I got all the reps in practice this week and had a good week of practice and prepared like I was starting," said Grossman, who was held out as a precautionary measure to ensure his health for the playoff game in two weeks. "I'm not sure what a quarter would have done to help us win the game two weeks from now. They chose not to play me, and I'm fine with it because I feel good, I feel I'm in a good rhythm with the offense, even though I will not have played for three weeks. I didn't play for a year and a half (before he returned two weeks ago)."

Grossman missed 26 games prior to playing two weeks ago, and he's got just one start in the Bears' last 29 games. But coaches weighed the threat of injury vs. playing time in a meaningless regular-season finale and chose inactivity.

"What is important is that playoff game," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "Rex will be under center for that game, and that is an exciting thing."

Grossman has survived more than his share of violent swings of fortune this season, coming back from the knee injury to start two preseason games, suffering a fractured ankle on Aug. 12 that required surgery and rehabbing in time to get back on the field with a playoff team.

"As frustrating as it was to be the quarterback to start mini-camps and (spring practices) and training camp and to have such high expectations for yourself and the team, and to have that taken away from you, that is a terrible feeling," Grossman said. "On the other side of that, to be in the position I am now is a blessing, so it's been a crazy year."

Playing it Safe
Seven starters and nickel cornerback Jerry Azumah (hip) comprised the Bears' inactive list. Strong safety Mike Brown (calf), cornerback Charles Tillman (shoulder), defensive tackle Ian Scott (hamstring), wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad (calf), fullback Bryan Johnson (foot), defensive end Wale Ogunleye (hamstring) and linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer (thumb). All are expected back for the first playoff game the weekend of Jan. 14-15, although it was the fourth straight game that Brown has missed and the third in a row for Hillenmeyer.

Brandon McGowan started for Brown, Chris Thompson for Tillman, Tank Johnson for Scott, Bernard Berrian for Muhammad, Jason McKie for Johnson, Israel Idonije for Ogunleye and Leon Joe for Hillenmeyer. It was the first NFL start for Thompson and Idonije and the third for McGowan and Berrian.

Watchful Eye
McGowan suffered a sprained knee late in the first quarter and did not return. He was replaced by Todd Johnson. Right guard Terrence Metcalf also went down with a sprained knee in the third quarter and was replaced by Roberto Garza.

Iron Men
Backup cornerback Rashied Davis took over the kickoff-return duties from Jerry Azumah and averaged 23.8 yards on 6 attempts, played as an extra defensive back and even took one snap as a wide receiver.

Offensive lineman Lennie Friedman briefly replaced Tommie Harris at defensive tackle when the Pro Bowl starter was removed from the game in the second quarter.


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