Bears line finally giving some protection

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LAKE FOREST, ILL. (AP) - Defenses were whizzing by the Chicago Bears‘ line like cars on an expressway, and with no one stopping them, quarterback Jay Cutler was getting flattened.

The season appeared to be speeding away, too.

Now?

The Bears are alone on top of the NFC North at 8-3 with four straight wins heading into Detroit this week and are pushing to get back to the playoffs for the first time since the team’s 2006 Super Bowl run.

One reason for the turnaround: an improved offensive line.

The Bears seem to have found the right mix after repeatedly juggling the rotation because of injuries and poor play. Although that unit isn’t exactly dominating, it’s performing well enough.

“It’s a new group,” Cutler said. “We’ve just had some time, get some experience under their belt of those guys playing together. Those guys understand the scheme as well as the skill-position guys. It goes back to everybody. This is the kind of scheme where if you’ve got one guy out of 11 that’s out of place, not doing his job, then the whole thing is going to fall apart.”

The Bears seemed to be in pieces heading into their bye.

They dropped three of four after winning the first three games, and Cutler was taking a brutal beating. The low point was a loss to the New York Giants in which he got sacked nine times in the first half alone and wound up with a concussion that sidelined him for a week.

Now look at the Bears.

They’re coming off a 31-26 win over Philadelphia, a high point in a wild season. How’d they get here? Well, continuity helps.

They’ve gone with the same starters on the line in the four games since the break, after going with four lineups in the first seven games.

“We’re fortunate to have all five guys playing for the last four weeks, and hopefully we can stay like that,” guard Roberto Garza said.

They took a small step forward against Buffalo coming out of the bye when Cutler was sacked just once after going down 19 times over his previous three games and have continued to make progress.

Garza settled in at right guard against the Bills after missing back-to-back home losses to Seattle and Washington with a knee injury. Before that, he started the first five games at left guard.

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