CHICAGO – If indeed he was experiencing flashbacks, Jay Cutler wasn’t saying. Who could blame him if he did, though?
Cutler was on the run and out of the game in a hurry, playing only one series as the Bears opened the preseason with a 10-3 victory against the Buffalo Bills that did nothing to ease lingering concerns about the offensive line.
“They were good. They were fine,” Cutler said. “It took a little bit to get settled down. Some of those young guys are still jelling a little bit.”
The Bills got two sacks from Shawne Merriman and nine in all, but the Bears prevailed on a soggy night in which both teams pulled their starters early.
Cutler and the Bears’ skill position starters were gone after a series, but the linemen stayed in for the first half. On defense, the first stringers lasted two series, while the Bills lifted their starters on both sides after two.
All Cutler managed behind a revamped line that no longer includes center Olin Kreutz was this – a shovel pass to Matt Forte on the Bears’ second play from scrimmage for no gain and then a 10-yard scramble. He got sacked by rookie Marcell Dareus on a third down at the 35 before the Bears punted.
Newcomer Roy Williams didn’t have a ball thrown his way.
Forte stayed on for one more play after that shovel pass and didn’t attempt a run but was at least in uniform. He had considered holding out at the start of training camp because he wants a new contract, and considered sitting out this one, too.
Newcomer Marion Barber made a good impression, running for 45 yards and leading the Bears to a second-quarter touchdown. He carried six times for 37 yards on that drive, setting up a 4-yard run by backup quarterback Caleb Hanie that put the Bears ahead, 7-3.
Hanie got a rude welcome on the previous possession when he was sacked on consecutive plays by Merriman. That forced the Bears to punt after Johnny Knox returned the kickoff 70 yards after a 44-yard field goal by Rian Lindell late in the first quarter.
For the line, it simply was a rough night.
Kreutz, the six-time Pro Bowl center, is gone after contract negotiations collapsed, and the Bears are going with veteran Roberto Garza rather than newcomer Chris Spencer for now.
Garza got beat on Merriman’s second sack, and it wasn’t a great night for the rest of the blockers, either.
“Too much pressure on the quarterback,” coach Lovie Smith said. “We have to tighten that up a little bit. But besides that, offensively I thought we accomplished what we wanted to the first game. We have so far to go.”
The Bills had to like what they saw from Merriman and Dareus, the third pick in the draft.
Buffalo is counting on both players to help a defense that ranked last against the run a year ago and got hit hard by injuries while trying to adapt to the 3-4. That’s one reason Buffalo went 4-12 last season, and coach Chan Gailey was quick to praise Merriman.
“The understatement of the evening I thought Merriman was impressive on his return,” he said.
They never got the spark they were seeking from Merriman in November because the three-time Pro Bowler injured his Achilles’ tendon about 15 minutes into his first practice with Buffalo after being waived by San Diego. He missed the rest of the season.
“I’m still getting a feel for the game again, so going out there and making certain moves, getting back in football shape is going to be a long process, but you are never going to take the athleticism and the ability to go out and want make plays for somebody,” Merriman said. “I’ve been away for a year and half still just getting into the groove of things.”
It wasn’t a bad night for Ryan Fitzpatrick, either. He completed 7 of 9 passes for 44 yards for the Bills.
Stevie Johnson, the man the Bills are counting on to take over the No. 1 spot with Lee Evans gone, caught three passes for 15 yards. Fred Jackson ran for 18 yards on three carries.
“Everybody knows what an outstanding player Lee was here,” Fitzpatrick said. “The off-the-field stuff, the leadership that he provided in that room was something that maybe you don’t see every day. That’s going to be something that the guys are going to have to pick up.”