- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2006

CHICAGO — Somewhere deep down, Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith wishes his team were 8-0 going into today’s nationally televised game against the 6-2 New York Giants. But Smith has found some affection for his team’s current record.

“I try to deal in reality,” Smith said. “The facts are this — we’re a 7-1 ball club. We like our record. I like being 7-1.”

Chicago’s record tops the NFC. But behind that single blemish are numerous questions. And after the Bears play their next three games on the road at the Giants, New York Jets and New England Patriots, there will be answers to those questions — good or bad.

Mistakes have plagued the Bears recently.

“We don’t like to lose,” Bears defensive end Alex Brown said. “It’s very hard to win when you make a lot of mistakes.”

The Bears were the talk of the NFL after beating defending NFC champion Seattle and Buffalo by a combined score of 77-13 early last month. After a close call at Arizona and their first loss last Sunday against Miami, the Bears couldn’t wait to get back to work.

“Whenever you lose, there is a sense of urgency,” Smith said. “When you lose you should want to do something about it. We were all anxious to get on the practice field and do something about it.”

One question for the Bears is at quarterback, where Rex Grossman has been inconsistent. Grossman has thrown seven interceptions in the last three games.

The 24-23 win over the Cardinals was supposed to be a wake-up call. Things got better after a bye week, when Chicago routed the San Francisco 49ers 41-10. Grossman awakened with a nearly flawless performance, completing 23 of 29 passes for 252 yards, three touchdowns and no picks.

Then came Miami. The buzz last week was if the Dolphins could repeat its upset win over the 12-0 Super Bowl-bound Bears in 1985. They did, winning 31-13.

Grossman went 18-for-42 with 210 yards, a touchdown and three interceptions, one returned for a touchdown. The Bears allowed 28 points off of turnovers and 161 yards rushing.

“We didn’t give as good an effort as we needed to,” defensive tackle Tank Johnson said. “They just completely dominated us. But if you’re a professional, you know that’s only one game and that you got a lot more games to play.”

In their last three games, the Bears have committed a combined 12 turnovers.

“The two games we had a lot of turnovers it was kind of a snowball deal,” receiver Muhsin Muhammad said. “We have to find a way to eliminate multiple mistakes. If we make one we have to put it behind us.”

Chicago still has the best defense overall. But in the last two games, the Bears have allowed 161 and 127 rushing yards. The defense hasn’t been able to stay in its gaps. That’s good news for Giants running back Tiki Barber, who leads the league with 830 yards. New York averages 143 yards on the ground.

If linebacker Brian Urlacher (sprained big toe) is hobbled or doesn’t play, things could get worse for the Bears defense.

But getting a solid game from Grossman is important. Teams have found pressuring him forces mistakes, such as throwing off his back foot.

“We’re working hard with Rex to stay in the pocket and set his feet,” Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner said. “Sometimes Rex is very aggressive and wants to make plays and when he does that he kind of gets away from the basics and tries to do too much.”

Grossman is aware of his critics.

“They can say whatever they want to,” Grossman said. “I know myself and I know that I have to execute every play. As to whether pressure gets to me, hopefully over the course of a season or a whole career, I’ll be able to answer that.”

With the likely loss of Bears top receiver Bernard Berrian (bruised ribs), Chicago might want to get back to its running game.

Chicago was eighth in rushing last year, led by Thomas Jones’ 1,335 yards. But the Bears are ranked 19th this season, 27 yards off its 131.2 average from 2005.

Plusses for the Bears are that Giants defensive end Michael Strahan is out with a foot injury and wide receiver Amani Toomer is out for the season with a partially torn left ACL.

The Bears have been labeled great, and now overrated. Which is it?

“Just because people say you’re good doesn’t mean you’re good,” Brown said. “Just because someone says you’re bad doesn’t mean you’re bad. We’ll see if we’re as good as we think or as bad as people say.”

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