The position group that has seemed in flux ever since the end of last season, even back into last season, for that matter, survived a wave of unanticipated upheaval and allowed the offense to function in the clutch.
Credit tackles Charles Leno, starting in place of injured left tackle Jermon Bushrod, and Kyle Long with superb overall handling of rush linebackers Khalil Mack and Aldon Smith without the Bears needing to over-commit tight ends or backs to chip our double-team. The Raiders did get to Jay Cutler for three sacks, one each by Mack, Smith and defensive end Justin Tuck, and four quarterback hits but the offense was able to generate 371 yards and finish with a 7-minute advantage in time of possession.
The line took a severe hit on the game’s third snap when center Will Montgomery was rolled up on while blocking and had to leave with an undisclosed injury. By the time the players were exiting the locker room, Montgomery’s lower left leg already was in a plaster cast.
Left guard Matt Slauson, who said he has taken a total of six snaps at center in this calendar year – all in practice – moved to center and former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Patrick Omameh moved in at left guard. The result was three-fifths of a line that had never worked together in any form.
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“To have Matt calling out the ‘Mike’ [middle linebacker] points was kind of strange at first,” Long admitted. “But he’s a really bright guy. If Will Montgomery can’t go, then he’s the guy who should be in there. I think he did a great job orchestrating the offense.”
The Bears did rig some protections to contain Smith but Leno consistently displayed quick feet in pass blocking, avoiding lunging or being bull-rushed. Slauson’s work at center was generally very solid before a botched snap in the second quarter gave Oakland the ball at the Chicago 25, The problem appeared to be more a case of Jay Cutler pulling back from center before securing the football although Slauson took responsibility and said he needed to have gotten the ball all the way firmly to Cutler before engaging in his block on Oakland nose tackle Dan Williams.
The line put the offense in a second-quarter hole with a holding penalty inside the Chicago 20 but the Bears were able to avoid letting the mistake cause direct damage, although they did subsequently lose the fumble on the mishandled snap to give away 7 points. Vlad Ducasse committed a false start on first down with the Bears at their 20 following a Raiders field goal.
Holding together after the loss of Montgomery so early in the game, however, was an accomplishment in itself.
“Will sets the whole offense,” Slauson said. “I knew I was in that position. Definitely not as comfortable with it, but the guys battled. The defense gave us chance after chance after chance. Having a lot of guys out, having two on the O-line out, it was tough sledding.”