LAKE FOREST - Rex Grossman's back as starting quarterback of the Chicago Bears. And what a long road it has been.
After countless hours of rehab to overcome two major injuries, he was more appreciative than ever Monday of where he's been, and of where he wants to go.
"It was tough to look through the window and see my teammates practicing when I'm in there doing something that is extremely boring," Grossman said shortly after Bears coach Lovie Smith announced he would start Sunday against Green Bay.
"And now getting a chance to play, it's one of those things that is extremely gratifying. It's an opportunity I'm definitely going to take advantage of because of what I've been through. … I've got a little bit more respect for the position I'm in."
Grossman, who replaced struggling rookie Kyle Orton in the second half Sunday night and led the Bears to a 16-3 win over the Atlanta Falcons, gave the Bears' passing offense an instant charge and a spark it had been missing
"He was our starter before he went down and we have a lot of faith in him. We think he gives us our best chance to win," Smith said.
"We needed to get the offense kick-started a little bit. Rex has come from a lot to go down like he did early in the preseason. … We really liked the energy he brought to our football team when we brought him in."
Grossman tore a ligament in his right knee in the third game last season and didn't return. This year, he broke his left ankle in a preseason game Aug. 12 and has missed 26 games over the last two seasons.
Instead of putting him on IR, the Bears kept him on the roster this season and now he could lead them into the playoffs. They can clinch the NFC North by beating the Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Grossman, a first-round pick in 2003 after a stellar career at Florida, will be making just his seventh NFL start Sunday. He completed 9 of 16 passes for 93 yards in the second half against the Falcons, showing no problems with his legs and displaying a strong arm.
On his first play of the season, he drilled a 22-yard pass to Muhsin Muhammad as if to say he was back.
"It was fun to feel healthy and get the accuracy back. It came together very quickly," Grossman said.
"I really didn't doubt my talent that I could go out and play. It was more, ?~Is my ankle going to be healthy? Am I going to feel 100 percent when I get out there or am I always going to have a little limp for a while this season, at least?' There were some uncertainly that I had that I was going to feel as good as I feel now. It's just unbelievable."
The Bears are 10-4 and had an eight-game winning streak with Orton as quarterback before a loss to Pittsburgh on Dec. 11. Now they're switching quarterbacks.
That's because the passing game has been erratic, never more so than in the first half Sunday night, when Orton completed just 2 of 10 passes for 12 yards. He has completed 184 of 354 passes this season for 1,810 yards with nine TD passes and 13 interceptions in a run-oriented offense.
Orton got the starter's job late in the preseason just before Chad Hutchinson, who was supposed to be the backup and take over for Grossman, was cut.
"You're asking a whole lot of a rookie to step in under those circumstances and play the way he has played," Smith said. "We won nine games with him leading us."
Orton said Sunday night he was obviously disappointed, but that Smith made the right move in yanking him at halftime because he was struggling.
After Grossman entered the game to a rousing ovation on a frigid night at Soldier Field, the difference in the Bears' offense was immediately obvious. He looked more comfortable and aware in the pocket and most of his passes were well-aimed with great velocity.
"I have high expectations for myself, what I'm going to add to this team. It's a unique situation," Grossman said. "He (Orton) made enough plays to keep us at one of the best records in the NFC. I'm going to try to add to what he's done and just go from there."