This time, line puts Cutler on solid ground

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Jay Cutler nodded in agreement, acknowledging perhaps it’s somewhat of a minor miracle he left New Meadowlands on Monday night in one piece.

Despite the Bears losing 41-13 to the Giants, the team experienced a breakthrough along the often-criticized starting offensive line, which protected well enough to allow just one sack on Cutler after giving up four in the exhibition opener against the Bills.

The last time Cutler faced the Giants at the New Meadowlands, he hobbled off the field with a concussion. He walked off a different way this time.

“Yeah, upright,” he joked. “A little bit different guys right now up front, but I think they wanted to come out and have a good standing, and keep me upright. After we started a little shaky, those guys evened out. I thought they played a really solid half.”

In turn, so did Cutler.

Despite a few drops by receivers, Cutler managed to complete 12-of-21 passes for 171 yards with a passer rating of 83.6. Most importantly, Cutler confidently stepped into throws without trepidation about being pummeled by a relentless Giants pass rush.

When the teams faced one another last year in the regular season, Cutler suffered an NFL-record nine sacks in one brutal half. On Monday night, Cutler took one sack on a play that he probably could’ve gotten rid of the ball. Other than that, the Giants managed to score just one quarterback hit on Cutler all night, even though they did force him to scramble and throw the ball on at least two other occasions.

“I think our offensive line as a whole put in a solid performance,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “I definitely saw improvement from last week. Our protection got better.”

Cutler said the unit continues to gain confidence, and added, “I think we took a step in the right direction, offensively.”

Left tackle J'Marcus Webb and right guard Lance Louis appeared to make the most pronounced steps. Webb gave up a pair of sacks in the preseason opener and later drew the ire of offensive line coach Mike Tice for admitting to not matching the intensity of Bills’ linebacker Shawne Merriman.

Webb atoned for the Merriman debacle with a strong performance against Jason Pierre-Paul. How strong? Pierre-Paul’s name doesn’t appear anywhere in the official game statistics. Let’s not forget that Pierre-Paul dominated two-time Pro Bowl tackle Jordan Gross of the Panthers last week for two sacks and another pressure that caused an interception.

“He did good,” Cutler said of Webb, who was also called for one false-start penalty. “Both those tackles are young. They’re in different positions than they were last year, but they’re coming along. With the amount of practices they’ve had on foreign sides to them, I don’t think we could ask for much more out of those two.”

Louis, meanwhile, took a hard look at himself after Monday night’s game, just as he did after the opener against the Bills. Coming into the game, Louis knew his performance would likely determine whether he’d remain in the starting lineup.

Louis responded with a better game, but stopped short of getting overexcited.

“I hope (I did better). I’ll definitely have to go in and watch the film because you can’t really go and (say), ‘Oh, I had a good game,’ and they’ve got (bad) things on film,” Louis said. “I think we definitely had more good plays than bad out there. There’s always pressure on the O-line to perform. We’re the guys everybody looks at when things break down. That’s kind of the nature of the beast.”

The team just hopes the momentum continues into Saturday’s matchup with the Titans and into the regular season.

“We needed to see the group take a step,” Smith said. “I thought we did that (and) I thought Jay put in a solid first half as far as passing the ball.”