Deja vu for Da Bears

ROB LONGLEY

, Last Updated: 9:08 AM ET

One year later and the Chicago Bears are back where they started.

They still play dominating defence.

They still loom as the team to beat in the NFC, though the Dallas Cowboys are closing fast in that race.

And they still have a quarterback who can't be trusted.

It was close to the same deal at this point of the 2005 season when those Bears (9-3) had everything but consistent play at the most important position.

Kyle Orton was the guilty party then, and only the name has changed for this year's version, which is at 10-2 and not looking so fresh with Rex Grossman behind centre.

He of the 1.3 passer rating in last week's win over the Minnesota Vikings started the season like a star.

Suddenly, Grossman is making Orton look good.

"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," Grossman said this week.

Grossman has completed more than 50% of his passes just once in his past five games and turned the ball over 18 times in his past seven.

"Right now we're not playing as well as we need to at the quarterback position," head coach Lovie Smith said, while resisting the cries for backup Brian Griese. "That has been difficult for all of us."

The good news is the Bears have clinched their division and are clear favourites to wrap up top seeds in the NFC.

Receiver Muhsin Muhammad was blunt about the bad news, however.

"Rex has to play better, that's the bottom line."

ROMO REUNION

Dallas quarterbacking sensation Tony Romo meets his maker in tonight's clear game of the week -- or at least the guy who helped him earn a spot on an NFL roster.

Sean Payton, now the Saints head coach, was an offensive assistant in Dallas under Bill Parcells. It was there Payton helped groom Romo from undrafted rookie, to clipboard holder to backup.

"I probably wouldn't be where I am without (Payton) and he knows that," Romo said, of replacing Drew Bledsoe as Cowboys starter.

And there is another bond between the two. They rank 1-2 in the record books of Eastern Illinois University, an obscure Division Two school far off the NFL radar.

The school is so obscure that to get anywhere as a player, Payton had to try the CFL first, where he played part of the 1987 season with the Ottawa Rough Riders.

"He has worked extremely hard to put himself in the position he's in," Payton said this week, before adding a zinger.

"Pretty good for the second-best quarterback to come out of Eastern Illinois."

VANDY CHECKS IN

It wouldn't have been easy being Mike Vanderjagt watching the man who replaced you kick the winning field goal for the Cowboys last week.

But Martin Gramatica said he got a classy call from the Oakville native after the game.

"I feel bad for (Vanderjagt)," Gramatica said, "because I was in his situation two years ago."

FANTASY MAN

LaDainian Tomlinson gets a feel for the popularity of fantasy football every time he shows his face in public.

The Chargers running back, two touchdowns shy of matching Shaun Alexander's single-season rushing TD record (38), is a fantasy player's dream.

"Usually they are telling me how many touchdowns they need or yards," LT said this week. "Occasionally I'll get a thank you because I'm giving them all these points."


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