There was plenty of praise thrown around following the Bears come-from-behind victory over the Bengals in Sunday's season opener, but none may have been bigger than what Jay Cutler told his rookie offensive linemen Kyle Long and Jordan Mills.
"Good job guys," Cutler said in the direction of Mills and Long. "I'm proud of you."
What a difference a year makes.
By Week 2 in 2012, Cutler was seen bumping J'Marcus Webb in front of a national audience in an embarrassing loss to the Packers. It was an image that irked Bears fans and added to the criticism some people had of Cutler.
But one number stood out in that game: Seven.
Cutler had to pick himself off the turf after being abused by the Packers defense to the tune of seven sacks.
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It was something he didn't have to worry about on Sunday after his offensive line's dominance.
"They did a good job up front of listening to me and getting the call and changing a few plays," Cutler said. "They did a good job listening all day and being patient up there. No one got frustrated early on with us and the way we were playing. We stuck with the game plan. Fourth quarter, that's when you have to win ballgames in this league."
Aided by the play of rookies Kyle Long and Jordan Mills, the Bengals couldn't wrestle Cutler to the grass in the season opener.
All week long, the Bears were faced with questions on how they were going to stop Cincinnati's ferocious pass rush. All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins was a non-factor. And Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap got nowhere near No. 6 for much of the afternoon.
"I was just trying to find that comfortable spot here today," Long said. "But, being uncomfortable is okay - especially with their front seven. There is so much talent with Geno and (Domata) Peko and (Carlos) Dunalp and all of those guys. They're extremely good players. So, we just rely on our technique and try to know where our help is and do the best we can to stymie that rush."
Only twice in 2012 did the Bears offensive line not allow a sack. It happened in losses to the Seahawks and the Texans.
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The time certainly helped Cutler when he needed it most on Sunday.
Late in the fourth quarter trailing by four points, Cutler had all day to throw and found Brandon Marshall in the corner of the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown to give the Bears the lead for good.
"They brought James (Harrison) off the edge. The line did a good job picking him up," Cutler said. "Marshall was one-on-one in the corner, which you love to throw. I put one up for him. Wish I could have thrown it sooner so he might not have had to take that hit, but he did a good job of catching it, clutching it."
Not only did the rookies provide Cutler with enough time, Mills in particular pulled off a veteran move that helped seal the game.
After the Bears were stopped on third down with just over a minute remaining, the rookie baited Bengals linebacker Rey Maualuga into a personal foul penalty.
The Bears were able to run out the clock seconds later.
"We needed a first down to win the game, and I came up to the line and had to block (Maualuga)," Mills said. "I wasn't letting him go, so he kind of got mad because I was blocking him. He's a great player. He made a mistake. Even though I wanted to retaliate, I had to keep my composure because of the team and me hitting him back is a selfish play and I could have lost the game for my teammates. But I kept my composure, clapped it up when he got the penalty, and walked back to the line."
It wasn't just Mills that showed the poise of a veteran on the Bears offensive line.
Long continued to erase the doubters who thought Phil Emery reached on him in April's NFL Draft.
Holding Atkins at bay will do just that.
"My sleep pattern can go back to normal now after this week," Long told Atkins after their matchup Sunday.
With Pro Bowler Jared Allen and the Vikings looming in Week 2 a few of Long's teammates may be the ones losing sleep.