Weren’t We All Just A Little Too Hard On Jay Cutler?
As I sat and watched the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers duke it out in the second half of the NFC Championship Game on Sunday afternoon, one thing went through my mind: Why isn’t Jay Cutler in this game?
The same thought went through the minds of countless other fans, casual observers of the NFL and, most importantly, NFL players. Just before the end of the first half, Cutler sustained a knee injury that he apparently played with for at least one series. But when the Bears took the field for the second half, Cutler was out of the sideline—sidelined with an unknown injury that would prevent him from helping the Bears get to the Super Bowl.
The backlash started almost right away. Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew jumped on Twitter to air out his frustration with Cutler’s decision. “Hey I think the urban meyer rule is [in] effect right now,” he wrote. “When the going gets tough……..QUIT.”
Fellow NFL players Darnell Dockett and Asante Samuel and former players Deion Sanders and Mark Schlereth soon joined in and, before I knew it, just about everyone was pulling against Cutler in unison. My Facebook feed filled up with comments like, “Is Cutler serious? If he can walk, he should be in the game.” Most of them were laced with profanity.
After the game, the backlash continued. Cutler was labeled a quitter. Analysts and players continued to question his heart and asked why he couldn’t muster up the strength and the courage to play in the second half. He might only get one chance to go to a Super Bowl, they said. Why give up that chance because of a balky knee?
By late Monday, a bunch of Cutler’s biggest critics were eating crow. He’d sprained his MCL during the game. Could he have played through it? Taken some sort of shot to numb the pain? Told the team doctors that he didn’t care what they thought and marched right back onto the field? Sure, he could have. But he might have hurt the team more than he helped them. So a lot of the people who called Cutler out backed off their original statements. Jones-Drew even went as far as to say that he was just joking around on Twitter and that he understood now what Cutler was going through.
I say: Shouldn’t everyone have just left him alone to begin with? The problem here isn’t that Cutler isn’t tough. To play quarterback in the NFL at a high level, you have to be tough to a certain degree. And Cutler has more than earned his stripes on the field. However, he doesn’t do it in the way that many other QBs do it. He sat on the sideline stone-faced during the game, occasionally walking down the sideline but mostly just sitting in what appeared to be silence—devastated that his season was probably over.
He didn’t do what Brett Favre does so often. He didn’t try to be the hero out on the field by putting himself into the game and putting the team’s success at risk. He didn’t argue with the doctors. He didn’t bitch and moan and act like a baby on the sideline. He didn’t grimace and put on a show for the TV cameras on the sideline to give people the perception that he was more hurt than he actually was. He accepted the fact that he was not healthy enough to take another snap and allowed the team’s backups to try and lead the team to a victory. He acted as professionally as the situation allowed and, as a result, he got ripped for it.
Even if Cutler hadn’t sprained his MCL, we should all know by now that any player who plays in the NFL has enough heart to step up and do the job that they’re paid to do when the time calls for it. Cutler is no different. If he’d suffered a bruised rib or a turned ankle or even a broken finger on his non-throwing hand, we’d expect him to go back into the game ASAP and do his best to lead the Bears to a victory. And he’d probably do it. But players know their bodies and Cutler knew that his knee was going to put his team at a disadvantage. In a way, what he did was actually remarkably unselfish. But under the given circumstances, no one saw it that way.
It didn’t take an X-ray or an MRI to show me that Cutler got the wrong end of the stick on this one. Maybe if he’d played up the injury more or held a press conference where he talked about every single detail about the injury—ahem, Favre—reporters would have understood the severity of the injury and reported the story differently. Instead, Cutler got crucified for doing what was probably best for his team.
I’m not saying you have to like Cutler. He certainly hasn’t made himself the most likable guy in the game. You also don’t have to agree with the way he handles himself. But you should respect him enough not to question his heart in the huddle. Because at this point in her career, that’s one thing that Cutler definitely doesn’t deserve.