LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) - Brian Griese can be excused for feeling a bit giddy these days, considering he got cut three times, endured a season-ending knee injury and went nearly two years between starts.
``I just have a different respect for the opportunity I have now,'' the Chicago Bears quarterback said.
He's taking advantage of it.
Griese led the Bears on a 97-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter that lifted them to a 19-16 victory at Philadelphia last week and perhaps kept them in the NFC playoff race. Instead of falling to 2-5, Chicago has a chance to pull to .500 when it hosts Detroit on Sunday.
It can credit Griese for that.
After two shaky outings, he has been solid the past two weeks. Griese threw for 381 yards against Minnesota, then was 27-of-41 for 322 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions against the Eagles and was named NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
In four starts, Griese has thrown for 1,203 yards, eight touchdowns and six interceptions. He's averaging 300.8 yards per game, second in the NFL to Tom Brady - his backup at Michigan.
If he continues at this pace, Griese would finish with 3,910 yards and eclipse Erik Kramer's club record of 3,838 set in 1995. Not bad for a quarterback who has experienced his share of ups and downs in his 10 seasons.
A Pro Bowl pick with Denver in 2000, Griese was cut by the Broncos in June 2003. He signed a two-year contract with Miami only to get released after one season. Tampa Bay cut him after he spent the final 10 games on injured reserve with a knee injury in 2005, and he appeared in just six games with the Bears last season.
Perceived as aloof at times, his leadership skills were questioned. But Griese has been at his best in the fourth quarter, showing the poise rarely seen from former starter Rex Grossman. Griese is slowly erasing doubts, although tight end Desmond Clark didn't understand why they were there to begin with.
``I don't see how people could make those statements without being around the guy,'' Clark said. ``I always thought he was a guy that would come to you and talk to you about whatever, not just football.''
Even so, Clark acknowledges Griese is different now. So does Griese.
He's more vocal than he was in Denver, when he was a young player surrounded by veterans. He realizes how fleeting job security can be.
``I don't think I ever lost my joy for the game,'' he said. ``I longed for it. I longed for the competition. I longed for being out there, getting hit, throwing the ball, working with the offensive linemen and having fun and rejoicing when you win. That's what you miss.''
It's something Griese put the Bears in position to do the past few weeks.
His 34-yard touchdown pass to Clark with just over 2 minutes left lifted the Bears to a 27-20 victory at Green Bay on Oct. 7. A week later, they were trailing Minnesota by 14 in the fourth quarter when Griese threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Muhsin Muhammad and connected with Devin Hester on an 81-yarder that tied it at 31 with 1:38 remaining. Moments later, the Vikings' Ryan Longwell kicked a 55-yard field goal as time expired.
Griese and the Bears bounced back a week later. Trailing the Eagles 16-12, Chicago took possession at its own 3 with 1:52 remaining. The audio in his helmet was out, the offense had stagnated, but Griese nonetheless led a drive that may have saved the season.
Two clock-stopping spikes aside, he completed 7 of 9 passes for 97 yards as the Bears charged up the field. A 25-yarder over the middle to Bernard Berrian and a 21-yard pass to Hester put the ball on the 15, before Muhammad caught a pass in the back of the end zone.
Besides lifting the Bears to the win, that drive sparked a mini-controversy.
Griese said afterward that he called all the plays leading up to the touchdown, but he reversed course on Monday, saying some came from the sideline. It was a petty issue that deflected attention from the winning drive.
``The poise, he's been there before,'' receiver Rashied Davis said. ``He's been successful. He knows what needs to be done and how to get it taken care of.''
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