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Few positives to celebrate in Bears’ 41-13 loss to Giants

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is pressured by New York Giants defensive end JasPierre-Paul (90) as Bears offensive tackle J'Marcus

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler is pressured by New York Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul (90) as Bears offensive tackle J'Marcus Webb (73) watches during the second quarter of an NFL preseason football game Monday, Aug. 22, 2011, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

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Updated: November 20, 2011 2:20AM

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The Bears’ starting offensive line took a collective step forward Monday night against the New York Giants at New Meadowlands Stadium.

After giving up an NFL-record nine first-half sacks last October, it allowed only one on quarterback Jay Cutler, who even walked off the field on his own.

“Upright,” Cutler said of the difference between the two games. “A little bit different guys up front. But they wanted to come out and have a good stand and keep me upright.”

While the Bears’ line progressed, other players on offense, defense and special teams regressed in a 41-13 loss.

The defense conceded several third-and-longs on scoring drives, the special teams botched a punt that was blocked and allowed a 73-yard kickoff return, and the receivers and tight ends dropped at least four passes.

“First, I’ll be quick and talk about the good things,” coach Lovie Smith said. “There weren’t a whole lot of them.”

Regarding his special teams and defense, Smith said, “It definitely wasn’t a passing grade tonight.

“But we’ll learn.”

There will be plenty of teaching points.

The offense, once again, got off to a shaky start.

On the opening series after the Bears’ defense forced a three-and-out, running back Matt Forte lost a yard. Then after a six-yard pass to tight end Matt Spaeth, left tackle J’Marcus Webb was flagged for a false start, and receiver Roy Williams dropped what would’ve been a 16-yard completion.

After another three-and-out, the Bears’ offense flashed some explosiveness, with Cutler finding a wide-open Devin Hester down the right sideline. Hester had two full steps on cornerback Corey Webster, but he appeared to lose his balance and fell out of bounds after a 37-yard gain.

“He lost it in the lights,” Cutler said of Hester.

On the next play, the Bears perfectly executed a screen pass to Forte, who sidestepped a defender after a short gain, then sprinted across the field for a 42-yard gain.

But on second-and-goal from the Giants’ 5, an open Hester tripped while running toward the right sideline, and Cutler’s pass breezed by him. Then Hester couldn’t haul in a hard pass around the 1-yard line with Aaron Ross tightly covering him.

The Bears settled for a 23-yard field goal by Robbie Gould.

“We got to finish when we’re in the red zone and that close,” Forte said.

According to a scout in attendance, the offensive line played well overall. He noted that Webb, despite the penalty, did a solid job against defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who had two sacks against Carolina Panthers Pro Bowl left tackle Jordan Gross in the preseason opener.

The scout said the lineman who had the roughest half was rookie right tackle Gabe Carimi, who mostly faced two-time Pro Bowl defensive end Justin Tuck.

But Cutler said his two young offensive tackles are progressing well, especially after moving into new positions and missing most of the offseason workouts.

“With the amount of practices, I don’t think we could ask for much more out of those guys,” Cutler said.

The lone sack of Cutler came when defensive tackle Rocky Bernard got around right guard Lance Louis and flushed Cutler out of the pocket, where he slid with linebacker Jonathan Goff quickly closing in on him.

The Bears only attempted eight runs in the first half and averaged just under three yards, but Cutler suggested the team was more focused on pass protection.

“We wanted to give them a chance to pass-protect, get some seven steps and try to get a rhythm going,” Cutler said, “and I think we made some strides in that area.”

For the half, Cutler was 12-for-21 for 171 yards for a passer rating of 83.6.

Most alarming was the dismal play of the Bears’ special teams. They allowed a 73-yard kickoff return that set up a touchdown and had a punt by undrafted rookie Spencer Lanning blocked that set up another touchdown.

Special teams, of course, was a problem last preseason, too, as they fielded some young players for evaluation purposes. Dave Toub, one of the most respected special-teams coaches in the NFL, fixed his unit by the regular season.

Playing without linebacker Lance Briggs and defensive tackle Anthony Adams, the Bears didn’t sack Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who converted a fourth down and a third-and-15 on two scoring drives.

The Bears have a short turnaround. They play the Tennessee Titans on Saturday night in Nashville, but Smith said his starters will play more against the Titans.

“First game they had a little. They played more tonight,” Smith said, “and we’ll increase it for next week.”

Only then, Smith hopes his entire team takes a step in the right direction.

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