NFL Films couldn't have choreographed Wednesday's Halas Hall production any more skillfully for the Bears.

Act I involved Kyle Orton stepping without a limp up to the podium - the spot reserved for head coaches and starting quarterbacks - and stating he hoped to play Sunday despite a severely sprained ankle.

"I'm certainly not ruling out anything," Orton said.

Of course Orton won't. That would ruin the script.

Act II required understudy Rex Grossman to face the cameras in front of his locker, like every other player, so as not to leave the impression Grossman had been cast in the role of starting quarterback. The Bears probably would have put Grossman in a Barcalounger if they thought it would help make the Titans think he wasn't being prepared adequately to start.

"I'm not sure what exactly is going to happen," Grossman said, on cue. "But I'm preparing like I'm playing."

Act III closed with coach Lovie Smith trying to turn a predictable plot ending into a cliffhanger.

"We want to get [Orton] back out there as soon as we can ... [and] you can go a lot of different ways with 'soon,' "Smith said. "Soon could be tomorrow, the next day, three weeks from there, maybe at the end of the year."

Suspend the suspense, please.

First, according to a source close to the situation, Orton was told Monday that test results revealed his sprained right ankle likely will cause him to miss three weeks, but he could return sooner depending on pain management. Without referring to the Smith medical glossary, sooner then should be interpreted to mean Nov. 16 at Green Bay if he is a fast healer or likely Nov. 30 at St. Louis.

Under no circumstance, for the overall good of the Bears' season, should sooner mean rushing Orton back Sunday on a bad ankle to face one of the fiercest defenses in the NFL.

Orton admitted feeling lucky that his injury wasn't worse than originally feared when he had to leave the field on the back of a cart. Playing seven days later would only push that luck.

The Bears can afford to lose to the Titans and still head into Lambeau Field in first place with a chance to take control of the NFC North. They really cannot afford to lose to the Packers, making that game a bigger priority.

If the Bears agree with that premise, they have no business taking the risk that 6-foot-6-inch, 320-pound Titans defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth will turn Orton's ankle into a pretzel. Why risk losing Orton for a playoff drive so he can play in a game against an AFC power that isn't a must-win?

As convincing as the Bears were in selling the story of Orton starting his ninth straight game, the Titans didn't seem like a team on the edge of its seat. Maybe they realize the difference between Orton and Grossman won't make the biggest difference in a matchup between two teams that want to win with defense and the running game.

"Rex has been there, done that," Tennessee coach Jeff Fisher said. "Our approach does not change."

Added Haynesworth, who graces the latest Sports Illustrated cover: "[Grossman] did lead their team to the Super Bowl, so you can't say too many negative things about him."

The Titans' defense does what the Bears' defense strives to do by getting a consistent pass rush from its front four, led by Haynesworth's six sacks. As a result of that constant pressure, no NFL team has more interceptions than the Titans' 13.

"We have to make sure we protect the football; that's job No. 1," Grossman said. "They jump some plays, and we might be able to take advantage of that."

Another 100-yard rushing game would help Grossman take advantage deep. Running the ball well increases the chances Grossman can get an aggressive Titans defensive back to jump a route, take the play-action fake and help a receiver get a step. A week of practice should improve Grossman's accuracy so he won't miss downfield the way he missed Devin Hester against the Lions.

Grossman looked "sharp and very focused" in Wednesday's practice, said offensive coordinator Ron Turner. Olin Kreutz called Grossman a "luxury" not every NFL team has.

Thus, going from Orton to Grossman won't shock the Bears' system the way turning to a No. 2 quarterback often does.

"We split reps in training camp, and obviously in '06 I played 19 games," Grossman reminded us. "So it's not that big of a transition."

Now that's not so hard to believe.