No. 2: 2005 – 2008 — Rex Grossman vs. Kyle Orton
Like a great game of Tetris, things were beginning to fall into place for the Chicago Bears in 2004. After investing six of their eight Draft selections on defense, Chicago brought in long-term fulcrums such as the: three-time Pro Bowler Tommie Harris, one-time Pro Bowler Nathan Vasher (an NFL-high eight interceptions in just his second season) and talented defensive tackle Tank Johnson (or, as his jersey read: “TANK JOHNSON” in full length and caps).
Over the next two seasons, the Bears rode No. 1 and No. 3-ranked defenses to a 24-8 record, likely thinking the same thing us couch coaches did: if the offense ever gets to average, this team can win a Super Bowl. The Chicago Bears had two quarterbacks: 2003 first-round pick Rex Grossman and 2005 fourth-round pick Kyle Orton. Between the two, it seemed bound to happen.
Sure enough, the drama started right away. The Bears — as only they could do — had talking heads justifying how Kyle Orton’s league-low 60.9 quarterback rating wasn’t a cause for concern. After all, Orton was 10-5 in his first season, nevermind that these were some of his ratings over the year: 42.3, 39.9, 19.5, 37.0, etc. He certainly didn’t win Chicago many games that year, but he rarely lost them. Maybe that was what they needed. We’ll never truly know.
Deep into December, Lovie Smith turned to Grossman, who had thrown just 39 passes that season. This, in so many words, forced Grossman to have to “cram” in order to be ready for the postseason. But as fate would have it, he couldn’t stop Steve Smith, and neither could anyone in Chicago. The Chicago Bears season ended with a 29-21 loss.
Seeing viewpoints in retrospect is sort of comedic, as it relates to Grossman and Orton. Heading into 2006, Orton was put down, largely seen as the reason Chicago’s offense couldn’t operate. It also didn’t help that Grossman played like a Most Valuable Player in practice, a pressure-problem that coordinators would soon sniff out.
That allowed Grossman a token of good faith in games, even the ones in which he probably should’ve been benched. Orton even admitted there was immense pressure on each.
As fate would have it, the wheels had fallen off on Chicago’s defense. The Orton-Grossman debacle was over by 2008, when Chicago dealt him to Denver, for nearly a decade of continuity and just one postseason to show for it.