No matter the severity of quarterback Kyle Orton's ankle injury – and the Bears have no intention of providing any update until Wednesday – it appears Rex Grossman will start Sunday at Soldier Field against the Bears' toughest opponent of the season, the 8-0 Titans.
"He took tests [Monday] morning and we have some more to take, and that's about all I can tell you right now," head coach Lovie Smith said, declining to specify the tests that Orton underwent. "He has an ankle injury. I wouldn't be quick to rush and start trying to play [doctor]. I'm not playing doctor. You shouldn't either. You should let us come and tell you once we know for sure exactly what the injury is. We're hopeful, I'll just say that."
The Bears already know the extent of Orton's injury. It's just a matter of when they want to release the information. But it's doubtful that a player who collapsed on the field and couldn't walk off under his own power would recover in time to play seven days later.
A positive sign was that the team is not immediately seeking to add a veteran quarterback behind Grossman and undrafted rookie Caleb Hanie – but that could change.
"Right now we're staying exactly the way we are," Smith said. "To do that you would say that Kyle will be out for a long period of time. We're not there. We're evaluating an ankle injury, that's about all we're doing right now."
Grossman was the loser in the preseason QB battle with Orton, but as backup quarterbacks go, he's better than most if for no other reason than his experience in the offense and the success he's had in the scheme – despite his inconsistency. If this week winds up being his 2008 debut as a starter, Grossman could not have picked a more difficult defense. The Titans are No. 1 in the NFL in points allowed (12.9 per game), No. 7 in total yards allowed (289.8), 12th in passing yards allowed (198.1) and 10th in rushing yards allowed (91.6).
Grossman looked rusty against the Lions, but he did oversee a 14-0 comeback and threw a TD pass that helped salvage the victory. But he also had two passes batted at the line of scrimmage, one of which was intercepted, and on several occasions received the obligatory home-crowd boos that have accompanied his negative plays since early last season.
Grossman gets much more support from his teammates, who appear to be expecting him to start Sunday even if they can't say it.
"We've been to battle with him, and there's no hesitation to go back to battle with him again if we have to if Kyle has to miss some time with his injury," tight end Desmond Clark said. "Rex is the guy who took us to the Super Bowl two years ago, so he's tested."
Grossman has started 24 regular-season games in Ron Turner's offense since 2005, with a 16-8 record. He would have gotten credit for a win in relief Sunday if that were an NFL stat.
"He redirected the ship and did a great job," offensive left tackle John St. Clair said. "We have a lot of confidence in Rex. He's been there before – been there, done that. He's played at a very high level, so there's no concern with Rex. He's the same guy who led us to the Super Bowl."
Although Grossman and Orton have different styles and Grossman has a tendency to take more chances, Smith says the Bears offense and his confidence remain unchanged.
"We're going to run our offense," Smith said. "We have a history with Rex, running all of our plays. He's been in every possible situation you could think of, and that's how we do it. If there's an injury, it's the next guy up. We expect him to do the job and find a way to win."
This week, that's a difficult assignment against the NFL's only undefeated team.
NOTES & QUOTES
"I felt great probably 70 percent of the time," Grossman said. "The other 30 percent, the timing was a little bit off. If I play next week, I'll have a whole week of practice to correct that other 30 percent."
Grossman completed 9 of 19 passes for 58 yards and one touchdown, but he was also intercepted once after a pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage by Jared DeVries and caught by Dewayne White. His passer rating was 49.9.
Since Orton was injured on the Bears' final play of the first half, Grossman had the benefit of the intermission to prepare.
"I had the whole half to think about the game plan, how I'm going to go out there and get ready," said Grossman, who was beaten out for the starting job by Orton in the preseason. "The last couple months have been tough. But when you have a role and your number is called to fulfill that role, I was happy to come in and help us win the game. As frustrating as it was to not be the guy to start, you have a different role. And in that role I came in and did the job."
Grossman figured he would get back on the field at some point, based on recent history.
"I never figured that I wouldn't play at all," he said. "Odds are that at least two quarterbacks play some – especially here in Chicago." …
Call it a career year, a break-out season or a team MVP campaign, but that's the kind of 2008 Orton was having until he suffered an ankle injury in the final minute of the first half Sunday.
Orton could return quickly and pick up where he left off, but it's likely he'll miss at least some time. For the Bears, having to switch quarterbacks is nothing new, but usually it doesn't happen when the incumbent is playing so well.
"It's disappointing, but that's how it goes," Smith said. "Injuries happen. We'd like to start and finish the season with the same guys, but it doesn't happen like that. You hope that you don't have season-ending injuries, and we've been lucky with that for the most part."
After nine weeks, Orton is tied for 10th in the NFL with a 90.8 passer rating, and he has not thrown an interception since Sept. 28 – during which time he has five TD passes. Among the 35 quarterbacks with enough playing time to qualify for the league standings, only three have thrown fewer interceptions than Orton's four. Despite missing the second half of Sunday's game, the four-year veteran is still 11th in the league with 1,777 passing yards.
"Hopefully he's not going to be down for any long stretch of time," Clark said. "We're not looking forward to [that] because Kyle has been leading us and getting us through a lot of tough games. We definitely want to have him out there, but if we have to go with Rex, we're ready to go." …
Smith expressed concern over safety Mike Brown's latest injury because his past four seasons have all been marred by serious physical ailments, but Sunday's calf injury doesn't appear to be in the same category.
"Mike doesn't have a season-ending injury," Smith said. "So right now, I'm looking at it like other [minor] injuries that we have. Hopefully it's not anything that will keep him out for long."
Rookie fourth-round pick Craig Steltz was thrust into the lineup to replace Brown, and the LSU product snagged his first career interception a yard deep in the end zone to snuff a Lions' scoring threat early in the fourth quarter.
"That was a great play by him," Smith said. "They were driving, and if Craig doesn't make the interception, who knows? You need your free safety to make some plays like that. Craig did a lot of good things. He's been paying attention, and he was ready for his opportunity."
Brown also had his first pick of the season on the Lions' first possession.
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