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Bears are wise to stick with Rex

Lovie Smith is doing the right thing by sticking with Rex Grossman as his quarterback.

The Chicago Bears are 10-2 despite the fact that Grossman has been awful in four of the last seven games. His passer rating of 1.3 in last week's win over Minnesota has the Windy City up in arms. Even Bears great Gale Sayers joined the fray last week.

"It's a shame Lovie Smith won't go to Brian Griese," Sayers said, referring to the Bears backup. "He is 10-2 with Rex, but the defense is winning these ballgames. You are not going to the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman."

Griese is a good backup. He can win games in the NFL. But if Griese were a Super Bowl-caliber quarterback, he would not be on his fourth team in the last five years and Denver coach Mike Shanahan -- one of the best offensive minds in the game -- would not have thrown him overboard four years ago.

Grossman has more talent than Griese. Grossman has shown some great signs this year. Four weeks ago, he led a 38-20 win over the Giants and had a passer rating of 105.

But Grossman, despite the fact he's in his fourth year, has just 19 career starts. That's one fewer than J.P. Losman. What do you expect? He's going to have ups and downs.

Obviously, if Grossman stays horrible, if it appears he's pressing so much he can't get out of his own way, Griese will play. But there is no reason to play Griese for the last four games in order to get him ready for the playoffs. He's a 31-year-old veteran. He can step in and manage the game at any point. Conversely, it makes perfect sense to give Grossman all the time possible to play his way out of the slump. Grossman's upside already has proved to be better than Griese's.

After last Sunday night's game in Denver in which rookie Jay Cutler struggled, John Elway commented on the patience needed with young quarterbacks.

"I'll tell you what's amazing," Elway said. "You retire, you're away from the game for eight years and people look at you like you never made a mistake. You used to crucify me. Now I'm like a god. I went through the same things everyone else is going through, and Jay is going to go through, that Jake [Plummer] has been through.

"That is what happens when you retire. You get a lot better. I never lost a Super Bowl, never threw a pick, never got sacked, never was going down, threw it in the air. I did all that. We just forget."


Manning shines

Peyton Manning has 22 TD passes and eight interceptions. Colts coach Tony Dungy says his quarterback is playing even better than two years ago, when he threw 49 TD passes. Dungy said teams are playing more sophisticated defenses against them to take away the long bomb.

"He has to really decipher a lot more than he had to maybe two years ago when people didn't have as sophisticated plans against us," Dungy said. "And I think he's done a great job of not only being accurate and throwing the ball but managing the game, getting us in the right place and doing the right things to help us win."

"I think that was a fairly easy year in a lot of ways," Dungy said of the 49-TD season. "We had people that hadn't played us a lot. We had people that thought the way to play these guys is to blitz them and put pressure on Manning, and everybody was pretty much playing us the same way. We had some really big days, fairly easy just throwing against one-on-one coverage and picking up blitzes. I would never say touchdown passes are easy. But we had long touchdown passes. . . . Now they're making him use more plays."


Bills dissent

The Bills and the Bengals not surprisingly again found themselves in the small dissenting minority last week when it came time to vote on whether to give the Giants and the Jets a $300 million low-interest loan to help fund a new mega-stadium in the Meadowlands. The plan was approved, 30-2.

The approval of the measure was a fait accompli. Ten other teams already had dipped into the till known as the NFL's G-3 program, which supports funding of new facilities. The league was strongly in favor of it, and there was widespread agreement that the league needed a new stadium in its biggest market.

The Bills have been against the G-3 program ever since former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue started it in 1999 because they do not think teams should be taking on such a large amount of debt.

That, however, wasn't the big reason the Bills voted against it. The Bills thought the league should make some concrete concessions on identifying qualifiers for the planned cost-sharing program designed to funnel money to low-revenue teams. We're still waiting to see what hoops low-revenue teams will have to jump through to get assistance from rich teams. The league sent out a notice to teams saying a conference call has been scheduled to discuss the question of qualifiers.


Falcon stampede

Warrick Dunn needs 48 yards and Michael Vick needs 71 yards to become the first running back/quarterback duo to rush for 1,000 yards on a team during the same season. They would join Miami's Mercury Morris and Larry Csonka (1972), Pittsburgh's Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier (1976) and Cleveland's Earnest Byner and Kevin Mack (1985) as the only teammates to have 1,000 yards rushing in the same season.


Onside kicks

The top seven teams in the NFC wild-card race -- the Giants, Eagles, Panthers, Falcons, Vikings, 49ers and Rams -- are a combined 9-19 in their last four games.

Shortly after Sean Payton left his job as Dallas offensive coordinator to become Saints head coach, he called Bill Parcells to see if the Tuna would consider trading Tony Romo to New Orleans. Parcells' response? "Lay down on the couch and have some warm milk."

I love Dan Henning as an offensive coordinator. Everyone loves Steve Smith. I like Jake Delhomme. I can't remember a more hard-to-figure offense than this year's Carolina team, which ranks 23rd in scoring. The last pass Monday night was not a bad call. Throw a fade to Keyshawn Johnson in the end zone. He's 6-foot-4. You've got to figure the worst thing that can happen is an incompletion. Instead Johnson begs for a penalty when he should have been doing everything he could to break up the pass. Interception. Panthers lose. Eagles corner Lito Sheppard said he expected the fade, because Delhomme pats his behind before the snap every time he throws it in the red zone.

The Pats now are without both starting safeties. Eugene Wilson, out the last six games with a bad hamstring, was shut down for the year and put on injured reserve. Strong safety Rodney Harrison, who broke his shoulder blade on Nov. 5, vows he will be back at some point in the playoffs.

Tampa Bay last week became the first team since 1933 to escape a shutout on the final play of a game with Matt Bryant's field goal in a 20-3 loss at Pittsburgh.

Ex-Bill Justin Bannan, backing up on Baltimore's defensive line, went on the injured reserve list with a dislocated toe.

Denver's current three-game losing streak is just the third of Mike Shanahan's 12-year tenure.


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