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Bears’ starting offense struggles against Giants; backups lead rally

Jay Cutler drops back pass against Giants. “We missed some stuff we should have hit” Cutler (9-for-21 96 yards) admitted.

Jay Cutler drops back to pass against the Giants. “We missed some stuff we should have hit,” Cutler (9-for-21, 96 yards) admitted. | Julio Cortez~AP

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Updated: September 26, 2012 6:10AM

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — At least Jay Cutler survived the first half Friday night.

Otherwise, the Bears’ starting offense failed to build on the momentum generated against the Washington Redskins as they struggled against the defending Super Bowl-champion New York Giants at MetLife Stadium.

The Bears beat the Giants 20-17, but much of the credit goes to the team’s backups, who rallied for the game’s final 13 points.

For Cutler, the performance wasn’t memorable, albeit nothing like his fateful performance in October 2010, when he was sacked an NFL-record nine times by the Giants and knocked out of the game — a 17-3 Bears loss — with a concussion. On Friday night, Cutler completed just 9 of 21 passes for 96 yards, although he did connect on a pretty 21-yard touchdown to receiver Brandon Marshall.

“We just looked off,” said Cutler, who completed 7 of 17 passes for 72 yards in the first half, when the Giants’ starting defense was on the field. “Our communication was lacking. We missed some stuff we should have hit. We left a few plays out there.”

More like a half-dozen.

Rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery dropped a pass near the goal line. Veteran receiver Earl Bennett dropped one in the end zone. The Bears averaged 2.4 yards per run in the first half, which included a 19-yard end-around by receiver Devin Hester. And the Bears converted just 3 of 9 third-down attempts.

Cutler lamented the communication, something Marshall and running back Matt Forte acknowledged was an issue.

“Of course, I had something to do with it. We all did,” Marshall said. “It wasn’t as clean as we wanted to be.”

Added Forte: “Anytime you have your first away game, there’s going to be a lack of communication somewhere.”

Marshall continued to point to the same source for the greatest challenge of the Bears’ offense.

“I think the only people who can stop us is us,” he said. “You’ve got to give respect to that defense, especially that front four. They do a great job playing together.

“You’ve got to give respect where it’s due, but I think [Friday night] it was more on our side.”

After the first half mercifully ended, with the starting offense narrowly avoiding a safety, the Bears’ defense forced a three-and-out and Forte finally got some daylight, sprinting to the left sideline for a 24-yard gain.

It was the Bears’ longest offensive play of the game.

But the Giants fielded backups on both sides of the ball in the second half, leaving them a 17-7 lead. The Bears’ starters chipped away, with Cutler leading a solid series. Forte followed up the 24-yarder with an 11-yarder, then Cutler completed a 19-yard pass to a wide-open Devin Hester. But after two incomplete passes, including the drop by Bennett, the Bears had to settle for a 30-yard field goal from Robbie Gould.

Cutler then handed the ball over to backup Jason Campbell, who completed 12 of 19 passes for 101 yards with one touchdown.

For the night, Cutler wasn’t sacked, although pass protection was sometimes shaky. Cutler was pressured several times, but he got rid of the ball to avoid any perilous moments. On the Bears’ first offensive series, needing just two yards, Cutler dove feet-first with two Giant defenders closing in on him.

He was just short of the first down.

“The offensive line did a good job pass blocking,” Cutler said. “We have to get the run game going a little bit. So there is work to be done, but we were right there in the game.”

It appeared that J’Marcus Webb, who started the game at left tackle, performed better than former first-round pick Chris Williams. But, by and large, the Bears offensive line didn’t exactly shine against arguably the best defensive line in the NFL, a unit that played without Jason Pierre-Paul, who had 161/2 sacks last season.

Osi Umenyiora, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, beat Webb and Williams at least one time each, and Justin Tuck also made a handful of plays. And it seemed every time the Bears tried to run the ball, a Giant defender rolled into the backfield, unblocked, and draped themselves on Bush or Forte.

After his evening ended, Cutler didn’t seem too disappointed.

“We’re in a good place,” he said. “We’re heading in the right direction. We just need to clean up a few things. Really it’s communication things, which is the easiest part to clean up. Physically, we’re in the right place.

“We’re doing the right things, so we just have to execute a little ­better.”

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