Rex Grossman's numbers in the 31-28 victory over the 49ers Saturday night were impressive on paper, but he also provided some ammunition for his critics.
Grossman and the first-team offense played the entire first half, and the fifth-year quarterback completed 13 of 20 passes for two touchdowns and a whopping 211 yards, as he threaded several long passes with precision.
But he fumbled another snap from center, which he recovered, was picked off by former Bear Walt Harris for a 52-yard touchdown return and then very nearly made the same mistake on the next possession. Still, Grossman's 112.7 passer rating was more than double last week's 51.1, when he fumbled three times, including two center snaps.
"Any time you score 31 points in the first half, it's good," Grossman said. "The offensive line did a great job of allowing me to see the field."
On the Bears' first play from scrimmage, Grossman went deep for 45 yards, dropping a bomb into the waiting hands of Bernard Berrian. On the next possession, Grossman's 30-yard strike through coverage to tight end Desmond Clark got them in the red zone. But then Grossman dropped the snap, as he did twice last week, and heard a smattering of boos.
The Bears went up 17-0 when Grossman found a passing lane by side-arming a 25-yard touchdown to a wide open Berrian.
The maligned quarterback talked last week about getting better and, he accomplished that according to offensive coordinator Ron Turner.
"He got a lot better," Turner said. "He got a lot better at making quick decisions, making the right decisions and throwing the ball with excellent accuracy. I thought he made big strides this week."
Still in the second quarter, Grossman threw a two-yard touchdown pass to Clark, which was set up by his 30-yard strike to Mark Bradley.
But the long interception return by Harris followed. Grossman had plenty of time to throw, but Harris jumped in front of rookie tight end Greg Olsen for the pick. On the Bears' very next possession, Grossman almost committed the identical mistake on a pass intended for fullback Jason McKie that linebacker Manny Lawson broke up and nearly intercepted with 50 yards of open field between himself and the end zone.
Turner didn't want to deal in what-ifs, concerning the "almost" interception.
"It didn't get picked," Turner said. "You can always say, ‘Almost this, almost that.' We had one ball that was picked, so obviously we have to correct that poor read.
"Rex played well. He's not going to play perfect. I don't know a quarterback out there that's ever played perfect. But he played really well, did a lot of good things. Everyone wants to focus on the one bad play and obviously we'll get that corrected, but Rex is a hell of a football player."
The Lions expect to have an explosive offense this season. Well, they'd better have one. Their defense looks like it will struggle mightily against the pass, and that could lead to a lot of shootouts.
Peyton Manning makes a lot of defenses look bad. But in the third exhibition, the main dress rehearsal for the regular season, he made it look way too easy in a 37-10 victory over the Lions. He went 23-for-27 for 233 yards and three touchdowns.
Poor pass rush. Poor coverage. Poor tackling.
"We've got to defend the pass better," coach Rod Marinelli said. "That's rush and cover. It's all together. It works together. It's not one guy. It's not one group. It's coaching, and it's players doing those things right."
Marinelli was a defensive line coach his entire career before he became the Lions' head coach last year, and he has a solid reputation following his work with Warren Sapp and Simeon Rice in Tampa Bay.
But each member of the Lions' defensive line has question marks. Left end Dewayne White is a Rod Marinelli protege from Tampa Bay, but he has never been a full-time starter. Under tackle Cory Redding excelled after moving from end last season, but he hasn't spent a full season inside. Nose tackle Shaun Rogers can be a monster in the middle, a true difference-maker, but he needs to be healthy, in shape and motivated to live up to his ability. Right end Kalimba Edwards has a lot of potential, but he has never realized it.
If the defensive line can't put pressure on the quarterback, the Lions are in real trouble because the secondary is unimpressive. When Marinelli calls it his "no-name secondary," he does it with affection. But it is a no-name group that makes Lions fans nervous. The Lions traded Dre' Bly in the off-season, leaving them with Fernando Bryant, Stanley Wilson, Travis Fisher and Keith Smith at cornerback. Veteran safety Kenoy Kennedy isn't the big-hitter he was in Denver, and Daniel Bullocks and Gerald Alexander are young.
"We're going to keep plugging along," first-year defensive coordinator Joe Barry said. "We're going to do what we do. I'm not going to sit here and make a bunch of bold predictions. There's one thing that we stress, and it's to play hard, play fast, be prepared and to finish.
"Those are the only four things that I consistently talk about with our group. Don't say a bunch of stuff that you can't back up. Just say those four things. If we can do those four things, I think we'll be pretty successful."
GREEN BAY PACKERS
General manager Ted Thompson didn't mince any words when explaining the good fortune the team had with indispensable receiver Donald Driver.
"We're lucky," Thompson said Friday, a day after Driver was knocked out of a preseason loss to Jacksonville with a foot injury.
The injury to Driver's right foot was diagnosed as a sprain, allaying initial fears that there was a potentially season-ending fracture in the foot.
The club is hopeful Driver will be ready for the Sept. 9 season opener against Philadelphia.
"We think we dodged something," Thompson said.
Head coach Mike McCarthy second-guessed himself for putting Driver in harm's way late in the first half of the game last week. McCarthy had removed quarterback Brett Favre but wanted backup Aaron Rodgers to get playing time with the starting offense.
Driver was hurt on the second play of a series that ended with a touchdown. The right foot twisted as he was tackled low by Jaguars safety Sammy Knight.
"He's a remarkably tough professional football player that was also blessed with remarkable genetics," Thompson said of Driver. "We feel fairly good that he's going to be OK."
The nine-year veteran had a career-best season in 2006, with 92 receptions for 1,295 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Packers could ill afford to lose Driver, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, for an extended period of time. He is Favre's reliable outlet in a receiving group dominated by youth and inexperience.
Greg Jennings, in his second pro season, has been dogged by injuries and caught only two passes in the first three preseason games as the No. 2 receiver.
James Jones, a third-round draft pick this year, has been a rising star in August to solidify the No. 3 job, if not push Jennings for a starting role in the base. He has a team-high 16 catches for 196 yards and two touchdowns.
Yet, as much as Jones has elicited raves from Favre for his pass-catching skills, the rookie has drawn the wrath of the veteran quarterback on the field for his inconsistent route running.
Mental gaffes by Jones have been prevalent of late. He had a fumble against the Jaguars because he was lackadaisical in tucking the football.
"I'll learn from it," Jones said. "It was a big mistake by me. I've got to definitely get it right."