LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) _ As Brian Griese carried his lunch down a hallway, he noticed a mob of media that had descended Thursday on Halas Hall and had this observation: ``There are a lot of people here today.'' All of them were pretty much talking about the same thing.
What has become front page news, the subject of fan polls and incessant talk radio and TV gabfests in one of the country's largest sports markets is whether struggling Bears quarterback Rex Grossman should be replaced by Griese.
It seems to be a much a bigger deal than the Bears going 10-2, winning their division a second straight year and becoming the first team to clinch a playoff spot.
The Bears didn't practice for three days after beating the Minnesota Vikings. So what did Grossman do? Maybe try to get away from the game and just chill? Nope.
He watched tape _ mostly of his strong performances in the first five weeks to try and spot what he was doing right and where it went wrong. He worked out and chatted with his father, who played college football.
``The few people who I have encountered have been real supportive and go get 'em type of remarks. I haven't come across anyone negative,'' Grossman said.
Asked if Monday night's game in St. Louis could bring a change if he doesn't play better, Grossman _ as usual _ was honest.
``Definitely it's getting to the point where it's pretty critical that I start to play the way I'm capable of playing, no doubt,'' he said.
Coach Lovie Smith isn't budging and said again Thursday that although Grossman's play must improve, he's not switching.
``This is a critical time for Rex to play well, yes. Our entire football team, it's a critical time for us to play. We're trying to get home-field advantage,'' Smith said.
``Right now we're not playing as well as we need to at the quarterback position. That's been difficult for all of us. But it's no more than that. We're going to play the guy that gives us the best opportunity to win and that's Rex.''
Grossman has 19 NFL regular-season starts, Griese has 72. Griese has thrown only eight passes all season while appearing briefly in four games. He missed the final 10 games a year ago with Tampa Bay because of a knee injury. So if Smith changes his mind, Griese could be rusty.
And there is one fact that is surprising to most _ Grossman has more playoff experience than Griese. He's played in one game, Griese none.
Griese, signed to be a backup but preferring to be a starter, said he's done as much as he can to help Grossman.
``Let him know what I see that's going on in the secondary, things he might not be able to see from his vantage point. We talk about things on the sideline and that's the most I can do,'' Griese, a nine-year veteran, said.
``I learned early on in my career that in this business, it's not about fair or unfair. I've been on both sides of this, so I can empathize with Rex,'' Griese said. ``And it's not great to be in this position, either, because I'm a competitor, I'd like to be out and play, I won't lie to you. But that'll never come before the team and that's the important thing.''
Grossman's woes _ 14 interceptions in the last seven games and a 1.3 QB rating last Sunday against the Vikings _ appear to be somewhat internal. He can't figure out completely what he's doing wrong. Sometimes he misreads the defense and others he makes a poor throw when his mechanics get out of whack from a heavy pass rush. He says he's overanalyzing.
``I just am so confused why I do some of the things I do,'' Grossman said.'' It just doesn't make any sense to me.''
``It's not a matter of confidence. It's more of, `What is making me do these things?'''