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."
By the end of Sunday night's game at Soldier Field, the temperature was 9 degrees with a wind chill of minus-8.
According to wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad, "It was so cold that the snot coming out of my nose froze before it got to my upper lip." He added, "It was so cold that the Gatorade that missed my mouth froze on my facemask before it could reach the ground."
Muhammad suffered briefly from cramps, the first time he's ever experienced that in cold weather, but he said it wasn't serious.
Wide receiver Bernard Berrian said quarterback Rex Grossman had some trouble enunciating the plays in the huddle, but not because he wasn't familiar with the terminology.
He couldn't get some of the words out because it was so cold," Berrian said, "which was kind of funny."
The Bears were missing five starters Sunday night - strong safety Mike Brown (calf), free safety Chris Harris (knee), strongside linebacker Hunter Hillenmeyer (thumb), right guard Terrence Metcalf (chest) and fullback Bryan Johnson (back) - in addition to Todd Johnson (hip), their top backup at safety.
Mike Green started for Brown, rookie Brandon McGowan for Harris, Leon Joe for Hillenmeyer, Roberto Garza for Metcalf and Jason McKie for Bryan Johnson. It was the first NFL start for Joe and McGowan. It ended a streak of 42 straight games played for Hillenmeyer.
"Going in, we had quite a few injuries, and we had a lot of starters that didn't suit up," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We had a lot of guys really step up and play big. Mike Green (interception, two passes defended) really played well, Brandon McGowan stepped up big, and Leon Joe made play after play."
The highly-publicized, highly-orchestrated revolt of the Detroit Lions' fans has come and gone and the results were ... well, not totally revolting.
Most of the players agreed that it was disconcerting and distracting to have so many Ford Field fans wearing orange - the color of the visiting Cincinnati Bengals - to the final home game Sunday.
"In my whole football career - at any level - I've never seen anything like that," said guard Damien Woody.
Some, including cornerback Dre' Bly, felt it hurt the Lions' chances of upsetting the Bengals.
"When I came out for the pregame, I didn't have no energy," Bly said. "When I just looked up in the stands, it disgusted me to see all the orange and black. When I came back in, I tried to pump myself back up .. it was crushing to us."
As for creating a climate - or a feeling of need - for change at team president by owner William Clay Ford, it is doubtful the 500 or so marchers outside the stadium or the several thousand orange-clad fans inside the stadium made much of an impression.
The sports talk radio station that launched the move to get Matt Millen fired as the Lions president felt it had succeeded in making its point, but neutral media observers felt the spontaneous booing and anti-Millen chants two weeks earlier had made a much stronger impression.
Neither Ford, his son and vice-chairman Bill Ford Jr. nor Millen has been accessible to the media in recent weeks. None of the three commented on the activity Sunday or the direction in which the team might go after the 41-17 loss to Cincinnati and the latest disappointing season.
"Naw, I'm going to play the same role I'm playing now," Rogers said. "It ain't going to mean no more playing time. I'm going to spot play and if the ball comes - I might get the ball once or twice a game - if it comes like that, hey, just make a play.
"As far as me starting or getting more playing time, no, I'm going to play about 20 or 30 plays. That's about it."
Rogers said that is the understanding he has from Lions coaches, although he said he had not been told exactly how much playing time he will get.
"That's the format," he said. "That's what it's been the past weeks - 20 to 30 plays. There ain't anything going to change now."
As a rookie in 2003 - after being taken with the No. 2 pick in the draft - the former Michigan State receiver got off to a fast and impressive start. He caught 22 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns in his first five games.
His season ended with a broken collarbone, however, and he broke the same collarbone in a different place on the third play of the 2004 season. He did not play again in 2004.
After a slow start to the 2005 season - five catches for 77 yards in the first three games - Rogers was suspended for four games for violating the NFL's anti-substance abuse policy.
He got even less playing time after the suspension, creating the impression that Lions management and coaches might have decided he did not fit into plans. It was also learned that the team is attempting to recover $10.184 million of Rogers' $14.4 million signing bonus, the result of the suspension.
Rogers maintains that he wants to stay with the Lions and has only said that he is trying to work to help the team.
"I really don't have to re-think that," Jauron said Monday. "A couple of weeks ago the question was asked and I haven't given it a lot of thought, but I can tell you again what I said on that day: There are only 32 of these (jobs) and it is a position I love being in and a unique position.
"This is an organization I'm familiar with and I'm familiar with the players. Yeah, so the short answer is I'd like to be here. I don't have to spend a lot of time thinking about it."
Jauron was appointed interim coach by Lions president Matt Millen after Millen fired Steve Mariucci on Nov. 28. The team was 4-7 and sinking fast after the nationally televised Thanksgiving Day loss to Atlanta.
Jauron, who led the 2001 Chicago Bears to a 13-3 record and was named NFL Coach of the Year for his efforts, has not been able to turn the Lions around, possibly because of a siege of injuries that have beset the team.
At the time Millen named Jauron the interim coach, he said he had made no commitments to Jauron and would comply with all NFL guidelines in conducting a search for a new coach at the end of the season.
Jauron declined to address the question in his Monday press conference, saying he wanted to stick with his routine of not addressing personnel issues until Wednesday, thereby avoiding a knee-jerk reaction.
Jauron has started Garcia in all three games since he was appointed interim coach of the Lions, saying he felt Garcia's experience, his leadership and his game-management skills gave the Lions the best chance to win.
The team has lost all three of the games - to Minnesota, Green Bay and Cincinnati - and Garcia has struggled to move the offensive effectively.
Harrington was the Lions' starter for four seasons until former coach Steve Mariucci pushed Garcia into the job Oct. 23 at Cleveland. He returned to the starting job two games later because of injuries to Garcia and started the next four games before giving way to Garcia again.
With the Lions losing badly to Cincinnati on Sunday, however, Harrington came off the bench to complete 6 of 7 passes for 77 yards and a touchdown, raising the question of whether he will get another chance to start.
Although Jauron would not address that question directly, he said Harrington deserved credit for his performance against the Bengals, even though it was in a mopup role.
"I really believe (the Bengals) were playing hard," Jauron said. "They played hard the whole game. I believe they were playing as hard and in the same fashion as they did the whole game. Joey did a good job. He did well, obviously, when he got in there."