By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 5, 2007
MIAMI, Feb. 4 -- Rex Grossman grasped desperately for the slick football on the soggy turf, with another Chicago Bears drive meeting its ugly demise and the offense entangled in a quagmire. It was a moment that captured Grossman's evening, and one of several images that will haunt his offseason.
Grossman, under fire from fans and the media for his wildly inconsistent play, likely will bear the burden for Sunday's 29-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLI. In fact, there was a collective failure by Chicago's offense at Dolphin Stadium. But, with his often sloppy passes, Grossman provided the most vivid images in the downpour, such as when his mistimed pass was intercepted by reserve cornerback Kelvin Hayden early in the fourth quarter and returned 56 yards for a touchdown that put away the game.
Until that mistake, the Bears were within one score of taking the lead despite their awful offensive performance. After that, they were thoroughly defeated, and Grossman promptly threw another interception on Chicago's next drive. Grossman completed 20 of 28 passes for 165 yards (almost all in the game's waning moments), 1 touchdown and 2 interceptions.
"It was a frustrating game," he said. "My confidence never wavered. It was just a matter of getting into a rhythm as an offense."
The Bears simply could not move the ball on the ground or through the air in the rain, buttressed only by rookie Devin Hester's game-opening kickoff return for a touchdown and a 52-yard burst by tailback Thomas Jones to set up their second score. Other than that, Chicago faltered to an extreme few teams ever have experienced in a game this significant.
"Of course, the [first] interception was a big play," Bears Coach Lovie Smith said. "But we never got into a rhythm offensively. We never established our run."
Grossman's mistakes were crushing. He hoped to lob a ball to wide receiver Muhsin Muhammad down the sideline with the Bears still in the game -- "I wish I would have just thrown it away," Grossman said -- but Hayden read the pass easily. "It was a really big play because it put them in a passing mode."
Indeed, trailing by 12, the Bears would need Grossman to help them win the game rather than merely try not to lose it. The predicament went true to form, as he was intercepted again a few passes later.
Even by his erratic standards, Grossman was having a miserable game. He threw a touchdown pass early, but the Bears could not test the Colts' zone defense downfield at all. Grossman's longest completion traveled 22 yards. During the Bears' first drive after halftime, trailing 19-14, Grossman was sacked for an 11-yard loss, and on the next play -- third and 12 -- he could not handle the snap and fumbled, and the Bears had to punt. Chicago fumbled four times in all and lost three of them.
"We gave away this game," Jones said. "You can't turn the ball over like that."
Through three quarters the Bears' ineptitude was shocking. Through that span Grossman had completed just eight passes for 55 yards, and the Bears did not have a drive longer than six plays or 2 minutes 13 seconds. Chicago had run 28 offensive plays compared to 65 for Indianapolis, and had five first downs to the Colts' 20.
It was a complete collapse.
After the Bears grabbed a 14-6 lead about 10 minutes in, the offense's next nine drives amounted to just 29 plays, 92 yards, with four punts, three fumbles (two lost), two interceptions and one field goal (off a 14-yard drive). By the time Chicago began picking up first downs again in the final minutes, the Colts already were resting in a defensive shell and waiting for the champagne to be uncorked.