Rex Grossman was officially promoted to No. 2 on the depth chart Wednesday, fanning the flames of an unusual quarterback controversy in which starter Kyle Orton is taking fire despite the Bears' eight-game winning streak.
"It's a unique situation," Grossman said. "That's all I can say."
Grossman, who began training camp as the entrenched starter but is coming off almost four months of recovery and rehab following a fractured ankle on Aug. 12, appears close to 100 percent healthy. Orton is coming off a 6-for-17 passing performance that produced just 68 yards, and he was sacked three times for minus-19 yards, leaving the Bears with a net of 49 yards and the rookie with a passer rating of 23.7.
If Orton has a similar first half Sunday against the Steelers at Heinz Field, Grossman is expected to get the call.
"It's easy to say on the sidelines, ‘Yeah, I would've done that (differently),'" Grossman said. "But, at the same time, we threw for 60-some yards. If you're asking me if I feel like I could throw for more yards than that in a game, yes I could. But I'm not doing it. It's easy for me to say that here, sitting in the locker room.
"I don't want to be sitting here saying, ‘Yeah, I could do better than that.' It's a team sport. It's not just the quarterback. There are a lot of different aspects, but it's pretty obvious we need to get better in the passing game."
Grossman was the No. 3 quarterback the past two weeks, and it would have taken an emergency situation for the Bears to put him on the field. But it won't be a surprise to see him on the field this week if Orton falters again.
"I'm ready this week," Grossman said. "I just keep getting better every week, and I'm real confident that I'm healthy enough to go out there and play. If I'm not 100 percent, I'm right there."
While most teammates downplayed the quarterback situation, Pro Bowl wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad weighed in with some left-handed compliments for the rookie quarterback.
"I don't think anyone would have expected Kyle to be the guy to do what he's done, leading us to victories; or should I say not losing any games for us," Muhammad said. "(But) if you're looking to improve the team, offense is definitely one way to improve the team. And if you look at the positions, the quarterback position is where we lost our starter and where, of late, we've struggled.
"I think Kyle will admit he's struggled in the last game. So to have Rex back and now taking snaps in practice, I don't think that (controversy) is unexpected. Everybody expected Rex to be back at the end of the season. I think the most unexpected thing is for us to be 9-3 without Rex."
Muhammad failed to catch a single pass last week, ending a streak of 51 straight games with at least one reception, although he said: "When I look back at the film, and I evaluate myself and how I played, I thought I played extremely well. The fact that I didn't catch the ball wasn't all my fault."
Orton doesn't think it was all his fault, either.
"It's just time for everybody to step up," he said. "Even if the look isn't there, just go ahead and make the play, just beat your guy and make a play. If that's me throwing a perfect ball, then that's me throwing a perfect ball.
Grossman is in his third NFL season, but because of a torn ACL in his right knee in Week 3 last season and this year's injury, he has started only six games, half as many as Orton. But Grossman left no doubt that he's anxious for start No. 7, or at least some quality playing time, while downplaying the effect of the controversy.
"It's not a distraction," Grossman said. "I'm preparing as if I'm playing, so if that happens to be the case, then I'm ready."
The only remaining question is Grossman's ability to move in the pocket and escape the rush from a Steelers defense that ranks No. 10 in sacks. He said his mobility is fine.
"It's really not that much different from before I got hurt," he said. "I'm confident that I can be as mobile as I was before the injury."
He might find out as early as the second half Sunday.
Johnson got the nod over six-year veteran Mike Green, although both will be on the field when the Bears go to the three-safety formation they use on expected running downs.
"Todd is probably a little bit better in run support," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We feel like it's going to be a physical football game this week."
Johnson, who spent his rookie season in 2003 on injured reserve with a fractured jaw, started 10 games at free safety last season. Green has started 42 games for the Bears, including all 16 last season and in 2002. Johnson started Game 4 this season when the Bears opened with three safeties.
"I was just disappointed for Chris that he had to go down like that," Johnson said. "I'm just going to try to fill in and pick up where he left off. I feel comfortable out there, especially with (strong safety) Mike Brown kind of taking control and putting people in the right place."
Not only did the Bears fail to convert any of their third-down opportunities against Green Bay, they netted just 3 yards on those 10 snaps, for an average of 1 foot per play. On eight passing plays, the Bears had a net of minus-1 yard. Quarterback Kyle Orton completed two of seven third-down passes for 8 yards and was sacked once for a 9-yard loss.
"It's nothing major, nothing that will require surgery," Harris said. "I probably won't play this week, but I want to get back as fast as possible. Maybe next week, maybe the week after."
Harris said he suffered the same injury in college and missed just one game.
The sixth-round pick was moved into the starting lineup ahead of Green after the first game of the season and is seventh on the team with 61 tackles.
BY THE NUMBERS: 16.4 — Averaging point total allowed by the Bears since the start of last season, tops in the NFL. The Steelers are second at 17.0.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I don't think our troubles in the passing game fall on me solely, but I'll take it. That's fine. I'll take the blame. We have great players on offense who have done it for a long time, so maybe it is me. I'm going to prepare very hard this week, and I am planning on going out and playing my best game." — Rookie quarterback Kyle Orton.
Wide receiver Charles Rogers feels stymied as he prepares to spend the remaining four games of his third NFL season sitting and watching his Lions teammates lose football games.
"In the back of my mind, I ask questions about myself, but it's not about not being able to play this game, it's not about me being able to help this team," Rogers said Wednesday.
"Do I feel I can help this team? Yes. Can I go out there and make plays for this team? Yes, I can. Would this offense be better if I was out there? No doubt about it."
For some reason, however - and it might be multiple reasons - Rogers, the second player taken in the 2003 draft, is getting limited practice time, was not active for the 21-16 loss to Minnesota on Sunday and appears unlikely to play the rest of this season.
Interim coach Dick Jauron has indicated he will keep four receivers active in the remaining games - Sunday at Green Bay, at home against Cincinnati and the final two road games against New Orleans and Pittsburgh.
Roy Williams is an automatic; he has been the Lions' best receiver the past two seasons.
Eddie Drummond also is an automatic; he is the Lions' kickoff and punt returner, although he virtually never lines up as a receiver.
Scottie Vines, an undrafted player who spent most of his first two seasons on the practice squads at Detroit and Green Bay, has 31 receptions, tied for second on the team, and plays special teams.
That leaves the last receiver position up for competition between Rogers, Troy Edwards and first-round draft pick Mike Williams. Jauron decided on Mike Williams and indicated Wednesday he plans no personnel changes for the Packers game.
In response to reporters' questions, Jauron indicated he considers Rogers no better than the No. 5 receiver on the Lions roster and that he will not be influenced by president Matt Millen's comments last week that the Lions need to develop their young players.
Rogers is not entirely blameless for being caught in his current predicament. He was not to blame for the two broken collarbone injuries that cost him most of his 2003 and 2004 seasons, but he was suspended for four games this season for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy, and that apparently did not sit well with the Lions.
The team has filed a grievance against Rogers, asking that he repay more than $10 million in bonus money, and former coach Steve Mariucci was not satisfied with the receiver's practice effort when Rogers came back from the suspension.
Rogers has not said he wants out of Detroit, but he says he doesn't feel he's getting straight answers from the team.
"I just wish people would shoot you straight," Rogers said. "I shoot you all straight since day one. I've been holding nothing back ... I don't think I'm getting the same thing back from the other end. And that's like getting the runaround."
As a player, he played against the Packers at Lambeau. As a young assistant coach, he spent nine seasons there under three coaches - Forrest Gregg, Lindy Infante and Mike Holmgren. And, as a head coach, he went back with the Chicago Bears and will return Sunday with the Lions.
"It's a unique place, particularly for a number of us here," Jauron said. "I was a teenager in the ‘60s when the Packers were sort of in their glory, so my second game (as a player) in the regular season was in Lambeau Field. It was a huge thrill for me.
"Totally different than it is today, obviously, as we remember that field from then. But it's always a thrill to go back there because it has so much history, and it's maybe a bigger thrill for me because I spent nine years there."
Jauron says he has both good and bad memories at Lambeau. He also has special feelings about facing Packers quarterback Brett Favre, who is approaching the twilight of his NFL career.
"His love of the game is so apparent, I think, and it's one of the things his teams have always rallied around," Jauron said. "It's difficult to watch him go through this. Obviously, they're in this division so you don't want them to do well, but I don't think I've seen him have a losing season. I'm not certain he's ever had one as a starting quarterback.
"A guy that's been so good for our game in general ... we're playing him, (so) you hope he has a bad game against us."
His latest criticism was aimed at the team's management in the hours after president Matt Millen fired Steve Mariucci when it was assumed that Mariucci favorite Garcia would be benched in favor of Joey Harrington.
When interim coach Dick Jauron announced two days later that Garcia would be his starting quarterback, Garcia toned down his criticism of Lions management, but Jauron said he has neither encouraged or discouraged Garcia from speaking his mind.
"I don't encourage anybody to criticize their teammates publicly," Jauron said. "It's not something we encourage. Leadership, yeah. And I'm not saying people sometimes don't have to get on other people, but it certainly doesn't have to be in public."
Garcia, who said wide receiver Roy Williams altered two routes, resulting in one badly underthrown ball and one interception, admits he has not been reluctant to call it the way he sees it.
"I don't know if it's necessarily helped," Garcia said. "I think there have been some times where maybe I pushed the envelope a little bit, and what I need to be concerned about is my approach to the game and what I need to do to help this team."
The woman, identifying herself as Carmella DeCesare, said she was upset by Garcia's treatment from the Ford Field crowd in the Lions' 21-16 loss Sunday to Minnesota. She said some fans were rooting for Garcia to be injured.
"I think that's what bothers me most," she said. "They want to see a winning team and I understand that, and they've got every right to feel that way. But I just think (Sunday) was a bit much."
Talk shows later were critical of DeCesare and her comments, which apparently was more upsetting to Garcia than her comments.
"I think in many ways what she said was taken out of context at a certain point," Garcia said. "The initial call was about how people can be pretty cruel and start to ask for injuries to happen on the field. That's what it was all about, and then it all of a sudden went in a completely different direction.
"But that's done and over with. We're not going to revisit that again."
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 - Touchdowns the Lions have scored in each of their past three games, all of them losses.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think I've already proven that I can be a head coach in this league. I don't want to win games for any other reason than to win the game, to win a game and for these guys." - Interim coach Dick Jauron, on whether he's trying to win the final four games of the Lions' season to establish his credentials as an NFL coach.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
Brett Favre spooked by gridiron apparitions?
No, the ghosts of Lombardi, Lambeau and Nitschke aren't haunting the Packers and their franchise quarterback in the midst of this 2-10 season. Coach Mike Sherman, however, alluded to the supernatural Wednesday while broaching the hot topic of why Favre has been so careless of late with the football.
"He has such a memory of plays in his repertoire. He can recite every play in every game," Sherman said. "Sometimes, there's different elements that he's playing with that may cause him to do certain things. And, I'm not making (excuses). A bad decision is a bad decision. But, those things do exist with him when you play 15 years. Sometimes, you see ghosts."
Sherman cited the key play of the 19-7 loss at Chicago last Sunday.
Favre decided to improvise after a designed shovel pass down near the goal line couldn't be carried out because of a Bears blitz. Faced with immediate pressure, Favre claimed he was trying to throw the football out of the end zone. However, he was hit slightly as he lofted the ball to the right side, allowing cornerback Charles Tillman to camp under it in the end zone and return it 95 yards to set up a go-ahead field goal before halftime.
"He was seeing ghosts on the shovel pass," Sherman said. "It's easy for me to tell him, ‘We can't let ghosts dictate our decision-making.' Ghosts being previous plays in the game, previous plays against that type of defense.
"It was a Tampa-style defense (run by the Bears on the fateful play). He's played that defense many times (in the past), so there's certain decisions he thinks maybe he should be doing this or that or the other thing, instead of reading it out. He can't let that dictate his decision."
As the Packers prepare to host division rival Detroit on Sunday night in an unattractive national TV game, Favre's shoddy decision-making has come under intense scrutiny. He leads the league with 21 interceptions, three short of his career high in 1993.
Mind-boggling miscues in the last two games — both losses in winnable situations on the road against Philadelphia and NFC North leader Chicago — have been particularly glaring.
As badly as Favre feels and as much as he accepts accountability for the dire consequences wrought by senseless throws into double and triple coverage, he's too far along in his Hall of Fame career to start breaking his hit-and-miss habit as a gambler on the field.
"I've always had the attitude that there's always something better out there. And, to give up on a play, it's hard for me to concede that," Favre said Wednesday.
Problem is, Favre doesn't have the luxury as he did in previous years of having go-getters at the receiver positions who are able to take the gunslinger off the hook more often than not. In other words, ghosts from the past who could be counted on to come through in ad-lib situations, not unlike the aborted shovel pass Sunday.
Favre lost top playmaker Javon Walker, notorious for plucking wayward throws out of the air, to a season-ending knee injury in the Week 1 loss at Detroit. Promising rookie Terrence Murphy was lost for the rest of the season three weeks later because of a bruised spinal cord. Aside from having a healthy Donald Driver, Favre has been forced to try to make do with a platoon of young receivers recently described by former general manager Ron Wolf as NFL Europe-caliber players.
Since he's not willing to compromise his go-for-broke style, Favre readily acknowledges he's overcompensated in an attempt to carry an offense also on its fifth starting running back.
His worst games of the season have come the last two weeks with passer ratings of 46.4 against the Eagles and 52.2 against the Bears. Favre's season rating of 75.9 is his lowest since he finished 1999 at 74.7.
Equally telling of how bad things have gotten for the Packers, who have lost seven games by no more than a touchdown, is Favre hasn't engineered a fourth-quarter comeback for a victory. His last of 34 such rallies occurred 15 games ago, on Christmas Eve last year at Minnesota to earn Green Bay its third straight division title.
Favre's passer rating in the fourth quarter of games this season is an abysmal 57.5, ranking him 34th in the league. He's light years removed from Peyton Manning's top-rated 121.8, or even the 102.1 posted by Minnesota's Brad Johnson.
Favre on Wednesday reiterated a comment he made earlier in the season as it was starting to unravel that, "I know, now more than ever in my career, that I almost have to play the perfect game, considering who's in the lineup. (There's) a lot of new faces and guys being unfamiliar with what we're trying to do and not having something really to hang your hat on.
"The one constant is that I'm in the lineup, and I would be the first guy to tell them, ‘Lean on me.' And, so when I make those mistakes, it bothers me as much as anyone because I know I need to play the perfect game in order for us to win or have a chance to win. I don't believe that this season, decision-wise, is really any different for me."
The Packers last lost to Detroit in Wisconsin on Dec. 15, 1991, a season prior to Favre's arrival. Three of the wins in the current streak were attained at Milwaukee County Stadium, with the other 11 procured at Lambeau Field, including a 16-12 victory in an NFC wild-card playoff game Dec. 31, 1994, when Lions great Barry Sanders was held to minus-1 yard rushing.
Favre, held without a touchdown pass against Chicago for the first time in 27 meetings last Sunday, needs one TD throw to extend his NFL-record streak of at least 20 to 12 seasons.
He also is only 9 passing yards from realizing his 14th 3,000-yard season, which would break a tie with Dan Marino for the league record.
BY THE NUMBERS: 14 — Rookies on the Packers' current roster, which numbers only 52. All of them were in elementary school the last time the Packers lost at home to division rival Detroit 14 years ago.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I could care less about draft picks. Draft picks are here to take away spots. Do I want to see a higher round pick, in the first, second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth? No. It's stupid. Any professional athlete will tell you that, if they are professional. You play to win. You play for pride. And, draft picks be damned. I don't care if it's (USC running back) Reggie Bush and where he goes. It's our job to win football games. Where that puts us in the draft, I really don't care. This is your job; this is what I do for a living. The higher the pick, the more chances of them picking offensive linemen. I'm not really happy about that." — Guard/center Grey Ruegamer, on growing sentiments expressed by Packers fans that it would be in the team's best interests to lose its remaining four games to finish 2-14 and possibly wind up with the No. 1 pick in next year's draft.