(Eds: Updates with quotes, details. With AP Photos.)By ANDREW SELIGMANAP Sports Writer
No matter how much time he missed a year ago, Chicago Bears right tackle Gabe Carimi insists he doesn’t feel like a rookie anymore.
Carimi said he feels he has adjusted to life in the NFL even if he is still experiencing the occasional growing pain on the field after missing most of last year because of a knee injury. He had a few against Jacksonville last week in a 41-3 romp, tempering what he believes was an otherwise solid performance.
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Carimi got flagged for holding in the first half and had a particularly rough time on the opening drive of the third quarter, giving up the lone sack against Jay Cutler and committing false starts on back-to-back plays after Chicago drove to the 3. That led to a field goal by Robbie Gould rather than a touchdown to break a 3-3 tie on a drive that ate up more than 9 minutes.
Even if they beat up one of the weakest teams, it was still an impressive performance.
The Bears got interception returns for touchdowns by Charles Tillman and Lance Briggs, the first time in league history two teammates have done that in consecutive weeks, and did their part on offense with 501 yards on 73 plays – their highest total since they had 542 at Detroit on Sept. 24, 1989.
Cutler threw for 292 yards. Brandon Marshall had 144 yards receiving and Matt Forte ran for 107, making them the first Chicago teammates with 100 yards receiving and 100 rushing in a game since Muhsin Muhammad and Thomas Jones did it against the New York Giants at the Meadowlands in 2006.
”We talked about it as an important game for is to execute our system and do a lot of the things we’ve been working on since OTA days,” offensive coordinator Mike Tice said. ”I thought the quarterback was outstanding on the line of scrimmage, getting us to the plays we wanted to. I feel like the line had their best game and probably the most physical since I’ve been here in three years.”
It was a big step for a unit that ranked among the league’s worst the past few years. Tice was widely credited for getting the most out of that undermanned group as the line coach before being promoted to replace Mike Martz as the offensive coordinator in the offseason.
After some early struggles, the line has held up better in recent weeks.
Left tackle J’Marcus Webb’s problems protecting the quarterback in the early going were well documented. But Carimi has had some issues, too.
Drafted with the 29th pick out of Wisconsin in 2011, he was expected to be a key part of the line last season. Instead, he played about a game and a half, making two starts before he went down in Week 2 against New Orleans.
Tice warned in the early going that Carimi was a work in progress, that he might struggle after working his way back from the injury, and through five games, the results seem to support that.
Carimi has shown some promise, but he also has six penalties and has allowed 3 1/2 sacks. Against Jacksonville, he mentioned the crowd and heat when asked about the false starts, but fundamentals were a big issue, too.
”You’ve got to sit in there and make sure you don’t rock back at all,” Carimi said. ”That’s what it was. It wasn’t like I was jumping offside. I was rocking back a little bit before the snap, and that’s what they called me on. Now, I know that. I’ll correct it, and it won’t happen again.”
Tice said he played well overall, but he acknowledged the penalties and the sack stand out.
”But then you have to look at his overall body of work,” Tice added. ”He was extremely physical and did a lot of great things in that football game. He had the (holding) penalty, two offsides and the sack. You can’t have those things but he’s a smart player. He works his trade every day. It’s not always going to look pretty, what he does, and that’s why we have him on the right side. He’s going to give us everything he has every play and that’s when some of those things are going to happen.
”The offsides penalties I can’t handle,” Tice continued. ”Once in a while you’re going to get a holding call and you’re going to give up a sack. But the offsides he’s got to eliminate.”
Notes: Coach Lovie Smith insisted WR Alshon Jeffery’s injury is ”minor” even though he is expected to miss a few games with what several outlets reported is a broken right hand. He was injured on a touchdown catch on the first play of the third quarter. Losing Jeffery is a blow for the Bears, although the fact that they will likely get Earl Bennett back for the next game against Detroit on Oct. 22 softens it a bit. Bennett has missed the past two games with a hand injury.
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