Both players did not play well in those games, but they became the scapegoats for these defeats as the Bears and 49ers played horribly.
The first came in the fourth quarter on a punt. The punt hit Williams' knee and the New York Giants wide receiver Devin Thomas recovered it at the 49ers' 29-yard line. A few plays later, Eli Manning connected on a 17-yard score with wide receiver Mario Manningham to give the Giants a 17-14 lead.
The 49ers tied the game and forced overtime, where Williams fumbled a punt that Thomas again recovered at the 49ers' 24. Giants kicker Lawrence Tynes nailed a 31-yard field goal to push New York to a Super Bowl rematch with the New England Patriots.
A similar thing happened to Cutler in last year's 21-14 NFC Championship Game loss to the Green Bay Packers. Cutler did not play well as the Packers blitzed and pressured him every play. He was 6-of-14 passing for 80 yards with one pick and no touchdowns.
What made matters worse for Cutler and the Bears was Cutler suffered a grade-two MCL strain in his left knee, an injury that would take four to six weeks to recover from. That forced the Bears to use ineffective backup Todd Collins and inexperienced third-stringer Caleb Hanie.
Now, Williams and Cutler were being unfairly blamed for those losses, as both defeats were team efforts.
For the 49ers, the offense was extremely ineffective outside of tight end Vernon Davis, who had 73 and 28-yard touchdowns. He concluded the night with three catches for 112 yards.
Outside of Davis, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith could not hit his other receivers. Smith struggled by going 9-of-23 for 84 yards.
49er third-down conversions were like the Bears this season—horrible. Smith and the 49ers failed to move the chains 12-of-13 times.
What about 49ers' defense? In the first quarter, Manning fumbled on a hard hit, yet Giants offensive tackle Kareem McKenzie recovered it at the Giants' 30. San Francisco's defense couldn't even hold the Giants to a field goal after Williams' first mistake.
As for the Bears, Chicago wide receivers Devin Hester and Johnny Knox couldn't get anything going (two catches for 56 yards) while Collins was 0-of-4 passing in two series.
Hanie played okay by going 13-of-20 for 153 yards and a touchdown, but he had two costly interceptions, including an inexcusable pick-six by Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji.
The Bears coaching was also poor, with Lovie Smith not kicking a long field goal at the end of the first half while going with Collins instead of Hanie when the veteran had a horrible game (6-of-16 for 32 yards and four picks) against the Carolina Panthers.
Sports fans like to simplify losing on a specific play, but a defeat really is a collection of missed opportunities. While Cutler and Williams were labeled the scapegoats of these losses, their teammates and coaches should also shoulder some of that blame.
Football is a team sport anyway.
Like the new article format? Send us feedback!