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Offensive line leaves us with plenty of questions

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CHICAGO – After one series that consisted of six snaps, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler traded his helmet for a baseball hat and stood next to Brian Urlacher on the sideline Saturday.

Good decision.

Cutler’s protectors on the offensive line did little to silence their critics in the Bears’ 10-3 win against the Buffalo Bills. They allowed nine sacks, including three sacks in a span of four plays in the first quarter, in a wobbly performance that looked far too similar to last season’s troubles.

Bears coach Lovie Smith confronted the problem before any reporters could pose a question.

“Too much pressure on the quarterback,” Smith said. “We have to tighten that up a little bit.

“Besides that, offensively, I think we accomplished about what we wanted to in the first game.”

Besides that?

It’s kind of like saying that someone trying to drop a few pounds ate six slices of pizza, two bags of popcorn and three doughnuts for lunch. Besides that, they stuck to their diet.

On the bright side, Cutler and his fellow Bears quarterbacks survived the game without injury.

On the blind side, each of them received unwanted, close-up views of Soldier Field’s sod.

Cutler was sacked once, backup Caleb Hanie was dumped three times, and rookie third-stringer Nathan Enderle was sacked five times in the Bears’ first action since the NFC title game.

Wince and groan if this sounds familiar.

It sure looked like 2010 when Bills linebacker Shawne Merriman crashed into Hanie and drove him into the turf. Merriman blew past J’Marcus Webb and bull rushed Roberto Garza for the sack.

Webb said it would take time for the Bears’ offensive line to hit full stride.

“We’ve got to take a look at the film and correct the mistakes,” Webb said. “We’re not going to play Super Bowl football the first day. We definitely want to progressively get better and just win.”

What would Webb say to those who saw nine sacks in the box score and said, “Here we go again?”

“I would say ‘no comment,’ ” Webb said.

Webb was polite and positive after the game. He’s right when he says the Bears have time to correct their mistakes, so long as they actually correct them.

The mistakes were too common against a subpar Bills defense.

Toward the end of the first half, Bills defensive end Spencer Johnson sidestepped right guard Lance Louis and plowed into Hanie for a sack. Louis pointed the blame squarely at himself.

“I think I played below average tonight,” Louis said. “I can’t afford to do that.”

The Bears can’t afford a repeat of last season’s blocking blunders.

It’s far too soon to know exactly where the Bears stand with nearly a month to go until the Atlanta Falcons arrive Sept. 11. They proved last season that a sloppy preseason had little correlation to the regular season.

Yet the Bears will need to do a better job of protecting Cutler if they are serious about making another playoff run. Consider the preseason opener as a valuable teaching tool.

“It’s no more than a starting spot for us,” Smith said. “Thank God we don’t play Atlanta right away, but we’ll get better. I’m anxious to get back to the practice field next week and pick up right where we left off tonight.”

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