So, was Tommie Harris benched or rested against the Cincinnati Bengals?
The answer appears to be yes.
It depends on how you interpret the whole "Tommie said, Lovie said," wordplay that has confused the issue.
After the 45-10 shellacking the Bears took at Paul Brown Stadium, Harris, a game-day inactive after not practicing all week, said he could have played and that his surgical left knee wasn't sore.
Monday afternoon, coach Lovie Smith also indicated that Harris could have played, even though last week he said Harris was dealing with some knee soreness.
Last week Bears general manager Jerry Angelo said on WSCR 670-AM: "Tommie is healthy. That is not an issue."
But evidently Harris was not healthy enough to practice, and the unwritten rule is, if you don't practice, you don't play.
"There isn't anything wrong with Tommie," Smith said Monday at Halas Hall. "Tommie didn't play this week, (and) it was more a coach's decision as much as anything. He has had some soreness. He didn't practice all week. I thought we had better options."
That sounds like a benching.
Smith was asked if Harris tried to talk him out of the inactive role.
"All players want to play each week," Smith said. "Sometimes, as a coach, you have to say, 'Hey, this is what we're going to do this week for the long haul,' and I made that decision. Tommie will be good to go this week."
That sounds like a rest.
Without Harris the Bears allowed a season-worst 448 total yards and their most points since Sept. 7, 2003. It's unlikely Harris would have made much of an impact, considering that he has a total of 7 tackles this season, according to NFL statistics.
Marcus Harrison started in place of Harris against the Bengals and was credited by Bears coaches with 6 tackles.
"All player decisions (are based) on who gives us the best opportunity to win," Smith said. "Could Tommie have played if I wanted him to? Yes, but I thought we could get a better Tommie if we let him rest this past week and get ready for this week. Tommie should be good to go this week."
The whole saga has become so bizarre and unpredictable that Smith had to hedge when asked if the three-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle would "definitely" play Sunday at Soldier Field against the Cleveland Browns.
"Well, those are strong words there," Smith said. "But he should be in better shape to play this week than he was last. We gave him a week to put him in a position where he would be ready to go this week. We're here now, so I'm encouraged, and I think he'll be ready to go."
But Harris has to prove he's ready on the practice field, starting Wednesday, a day he usually takes off following every game. In fact, he even took off the Wednesday following the Bears' off week Oct. 11.
"For a player to really prove he's ready to go, it would help for him to be able to practice throughout the week," Smith said, "and we think Tommie will be ready to go all week."
Because the "soreness" has lingered so long after Harris had arthroscopic knee surgery, there has been speculation that the problem might not by physical. But Smith denied there were any mental or emotional problems hindering Harris' recovery.
"Tommie's fine on where he needs to be emotionally, just like the rest of our football team," Smith said. "I don't know exactly how to answer that question.
"He's just like the rest of the guys, he's going to show up Wednesday, ready to go try to help this team win."
At least that's the plan for now.