Rubbing his upper right arm as if it still hurt, Rex Grossman recalled the jolt his body felt when Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips sacked him Sunday on the Bears' second offensive play.
"The hardest hit I ever took," Grossman said Wednesday.
On the field, that is.
The NFL's favorite piñata took another beating off of it after San Diego linebacker Matt Wilhelm told a California newspaper that Chargers linebackers coach Ron Rivera advised his players they could rattle Grossman because he was "a mental midget."
Grossman proved otherwise by taking the high road.
"He has never been around me and he always has been up in the booth," Grossman said of the former Bears defensive coordinator, who denied using the term.
Doesn't matter now. The politically incorrect insult just might have come at the right time for the 0-1 Bears and their heavily scrutinized quarterback given the way the team sprung to Grossman's defense, especially leader Olin Kreutz.
Kreutz blistered Rivera in protecting Grossman better than he was Sunday in the pocket.
Rivera's alleged knock came on the same day the Chargers' Phillips called Cedric Benson "soft," on Sirius Radio, and nothing bonds a team more tightly than its players being criticized from the outside. It's cliché, but it works for them.
The puffy-chested Chargers postgame remarks simply warned the Bears that future opponents will want to get inside their heads because, word around the league is, there's plenty of room.
Thus a Bears team always looking for a perceived slight to keep it edgy just found another one. The shelf life for this affront could be longer than the usual diss because it came from a peer and former colleague rather than the media.
"They won their first game and you would think they're Super Bowl champs by the way they run their mouth," Kreutz said.
For the record, Rivera considered Wilhelm's revelation regrettable and said in a phone interview that he addressed the matter with the linebacker.
"I told Matt, 'You keep that up, I might not ever be able to go back to Chicago,' " Rivera told the Tribune.
Rivera acknowledged telling the Chargers they could make Grossman lose composure and used his problems with fumbled snaps in exhibitions as examples. But Rivera claimed the scouting report never got personal to the point where it questioned Grossman's intellect.
"I would never say something like ['mental midget'] about somebody, especially Rex," Rivera said. "I have a lot of respect for him because he went through a tough time last year and I didn't think it was all fair."
Bears coach Lovie Smith dodged the issue and tried changing the subject to the Chiefs. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner reserved judgment because he hadn't spoken to Rivera but called any characterization of Grossman as unintelligent, "idiotic."
Hunter Hillenmeyer gave his old coach the benefit of the doubt, saying behind closed doors a coach might say things "just trying to get his guys ready to play."
But not everybody in the Bears' locker room was as understanding or bought Rivera's denial. One player doubted the term "mental midget," just popped into Wilhelm's head. And Kreutz went even further and lashed out in a way that gave credence to the notion that Rivera's incompatible personality with Smith hastened his Bears' ouster.
"I think Ron showed you right there why he isn't here anymore," Kreutz said. "He's kind of a 'me' guy who said too much sometimes. It doesn't [surprise me]. Here's a guy who said after we lost the Super Bowl, 'It's my time [to be a head coach].' So take it for what it is."
What it is now is an opportunity for Grossman. Whether it was Vikings safety Darren Sharper last year, Colts defensive line coach John Teerlink in the Super Bowl video by NFL Films or now the Chargers, the book on Grossman around the league tells the story of a quarterback with a strong arm and weak head.
So edit it, Rex.
Grossman didn't have great numbers Sunday, but the Bears didn't lose because of his play. He needs to build on the incremental progress shown in the way he stepped up in the pocket, dealt with pressure and took punishment with little more than a wince.
Marlon McCree's interception wasn't Grossman's fault as much as it was Bernard Berrian's for not reading the safety correctly. Neither were the Chargers' two sacks on which the pass-rusher pummeled Grossman after being untouched.
He cannot commit unforced errors such as dropping the ball while being chased and needs to look more fluid leaving the pocket. But Grossman looked sharper doing the little things than his 30th-ranked passer rating of 53.7 implies. At least it wasn't a giant step backward against one of the NFL's toughest defenses.
Turner didn't do him any favors either by keeping one of the NFL's best weapons, Devin Hester, in the holster and calling a conservative game that neglected the deep ball. Not having tight end Greg Olsen hurt, sure. But the Bears need to re-watch the first quarter of the first exhibition game against the Texans to remember the value of spreading the field and using the short pass to freeze linebackers and thaw out the running game.
"We can do whatever we want to do when we're at our best," Grossman said.
The Bears are at their best being doubted and can thank the Chargers later for their help, like maybe at the Super Bowl. Now wouldn't that be fun?Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun