Critics don't sack Grossman
Bears quarterback Rex Grossman obviously would love to silence his critics, starting with Sunday's marquee matchup against the Chargers in San Diego.
But that isn't what has fueled his competitiveness the past seven months. It's not a bad byproduct, though.
"What motivates me is to become a great quarterback in this league and be a great quarterback for this franchise," Grossman said. "(But) it doesn't hurt when people doubt me."
There are plenty of doubters after Grossman's uneven 2006 season. But his teammates marvel at his ability to tune out negativity.
"From what I see, it doesn't really affect him," Bears center Olin Kreutz said. "That amazes me. He just keeps working every day and gets better."
Bears guard Ruben Brown says people sometimes forget what Grossman helped accomplish in his first full season as a starter.
"This is a guy that took a team to the Super Bowl," Brown said. "How many other teams out there have a guy on their roster like that?"
The season opener isn't an ideal situation for Grossman, considering the Chargers have one of the league's best defenses. They led the league last season with 61 sacks, 25 more than the NFL average, and they were No. 3 in average gain allowed per pass play.
But Grossman is confident he comes into this game better than he ever has been in all aspects of his trade. His 19 starts last season -- and 15 wins -- provided an incomparable learning experience.
"I'm as focused as I've ever been," Grossman said. "I'm excited about it. We've got a great team, a great supporting cast (and) great coaches, so I feel like this is where I want to be in my career, and I'm excited about what we're going to be able to do."
The Bears won't achieve their goal of a Super Bowl victory without an improved Grossman, starting with a reduction in the 30 turnovers he had in 19 games last season (23 interceptions, 7 fumbles). But simply avoiding mistakes isn't enough.
"We want Rex to do more than manage the game," coach Lovie Smith said. "We want to win the football game, (and) we know we need to score in order to do that."
Only once last season -- at New England -- did the Bears lose a game in which they had more turnovers than takeaways.
"So it's about ball security," Smith said. "We have to do that and then just run our offense."
But Grossman will have opportunities to make plays that win games rather than just trying not to lose them. His 23 TD passes were seventh best in the NFL last season, as were his 47 completions of 20 yards or longer.
"It's a fine line in this league between making plays and protecting the ball," Grossman said. "The bottom line is you've just got to play smart, and that's what it comes down to."
Bears offensive coordinator Ron Turner says he has seen improvement in several areas of Grossman's game since the 2-interception fiasco in Super Bowl XLI.
"He's had tremendous growth," Turner said. "He's had an off-season to study himself. Last year going into training camp, he was learning the offense, but he was watching somebody else do it. Now he's had a chance to go into an off-season watching himself run the plays, and that's huge.
"He's done it over and over and over. He has a real good understanding of why we're calling (plays). He's understanding why he's going where he's going with the ball. He's making quicker decisions, and he's making better decisions on a consistent basis."