LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- Rex Grossman struggled, the Chicago Bears won, and teammates and the coach defended the quarterback. Yes, a new season really is approaching, no matter how vivid those flashbacks to 2006 seem.
The scene at Halas Hall on Wednesday was a familiar one, ripped straight out of last year's playbook, after Grossman's spotty showing two nights earlier in a 27-24 preseason win at Indianapolis.
The quarterback fumbled two exchanges with center Olin Kreutz, lost another fumble after being sacked and threw an interception.
It was a performance that did nothing to ease doubts about whether he can lead the Bears to another NFC championship. For now, however, Grossman just wants to fix the problems before San Francisco visits on Saturday.
"With the snaps, that should never happen," said Grossman, who was 9-for-11 with 59 yards. "It just looks sloppy. It doesn't look sharp. I want to come out and look sharp in the game against the 49ers, continue the progress that I made and take that next step."
On Monday, he stagnated.
Grossman blamed one fumbled snap on the noise at the RCA Dome and the other on sweaty hands. While Kreutz took "full blame" for the botched exchanges, Grossman pointed the finger at himself, saying he pulled away from the center too soon. Both vowed that won't be a problem again.
"The center-quarterback exchange, I should always get it no matter what," Grossman said.
Obviously, there is an overriding question as the season approaches. How long will coach Lovie Smith stick with Grossman?
He stayed with the quarterback when he struggled last season, but it's unlikely Smith will show as much patience this time. Not with the Bears' expectations soaring.
Grossman figures to start the remaining two preseason games and the opener against San Diego, but if he continues to falter, the calls for backup Brian Griese will likely reach a deafening level. On Wednesday, the Bears were quick to point out that this was only a preseason game.
"If there's any time to do that stuff and get it out of the way, now's the best time," running back Cedric Benson said. "The games don't count."
Veteran guard Ruben Brown recalled his first few years in the league, when he had a tendency to jump offsides and hold opponents.
"The years after that, I could have one holding penalty and then they'd say, 'Oh, Ruben has a problem with holding,'" the nine-time Pro Bowl selection said. "That's the nature of the beast. We understand it. It doesn't really affect us."
Still, what happened on Monday was a bit unsettling. The Bears are counting on Grossman to stop teasing them. It's telling that while cornerbacks Charles Tillman and Nathan Vasher signed long-term extensions during the offseason, the quarterback has an expiring contract.
Limited by injuries the previous two seasons, Grossman showed last year he can be brilliant.
He played at a Pro Bowl level the first five weeks, posting a quarterback rating of 98.6 or better four times. That included a gem against Detroit in which he was 20-for-27 with 289 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Then came the wild inconsistency.
There was that game at Arizona in mid-October, when the Bears rallied from a 20-point deficit to win. Grossman's performance? He threw four interceptions and no touchdowns while completing 14 of 37 passes for a 10.2 rating.
He had a 1.3 rating against Minnesota in early December, when he was 6-for-19 with 34 yards. He got picked off three times and did not throw a touchdown, but the worst was yet to come.
That happened against Green Bay in the regular-season finale, when his rating was 0.0. He had more interceptions (three) than completions (two), finished with 33 yards passing and did not throw a touchdown.
Grossman showed his good side in the playoffs against Seattle, passing for 282 yards, but was mediocre against New Orleans in the NFC title game. Then, he fumbled two snaps and threw two interceptions against the Colts in the Super Bowl.
Images of that performance came rushing back on Monday, even though it was just a preseason game.
"You want to tell everybody out there, 'Hey, you're overreacting,'" Brown said.
Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press