2011 NFL Playoffs: Cutler Sits During Loss, Will Public Opinion Kill His Career?
Cutler, who was unhappy with new coach Josh McDaniels, requested a trade and was sent to Chicago for Kyle Orton, a first- and third-round pick in 2009, and a first-round pick in 2010.
Previously, the Bears alternated between an ineffective Rex Grossman and a more effective, but less flashy Orton.
With the Bears' dominant defense, all they needed was a quarterback who could lead the offense. Cutler, it was thought, would bring that dynamic element to an offense that had lacked it for years.
Cutler was inconsistent during his first year in Chicago. He passed for 3,666 yards and a career high 27 touchdowns. However, his 26 interceptions led the NFL that year, and a 76.8 passer rating was the lowest of his career. The Bears finished a disappointing third in the NFC North with a 7-9 record.
This season the Bears won the division, and Cutler had a bounce-back season of sorts. In fact, the Bears accomplished far more than most people thought they would by reaching the NFC Championship game.
So, what's the problem?
Do you believe Jay Cutler was injured enough to sit out the entire second half of the NFC Championship game?
For his entire career, critics have questioned Cutler's mental toughness and doubted whether he could ever reach the upper echelon of signal callers.
What's so frustrating is that almost everyone agrees that he has all of the physical tools to be an elite quarterback—not just a very good one, but an elite one. I'm talking about the potential to be one of the top five quarterbacks in the NFL today.
Thus far in his career, that's where it stops with Jay Cutler—potential. This game (especially at this level) is about more than pure talent. Everyone in the NFL has talent. What everyone does not have is that proverbial it. Whatever it is, Cutler falls in the category of the "have nots."
As if questioning his mental toughness wasn't enough, now tens of thousands of people question his physical toughness as well. The fact is, Cutler appeared to "check out" of the game once the Packers were up 14-0, even before the supposed knee injury.
It's also one thing for analysts and fans to question Cutler's resolve—that's their job. After all, he was standing on the sideline without the aid of crutches or a brace. Under those circumstances, TV media commentators would have wondered why even if it had been another quarterback.
Then again, how many quarterbacks would be standing idle on the sideline with a spot in the Super Bowl on the line?
Each and every one of those guys would have had to be carried off the field on a stretcher to keep them from going back out there.
So when players—current and former—take to Twitter to rip Cutler before the game is even over, we're talking about a whole new level.
Here are some samples of what his peers are saying on Twitter:
Darnell Dockett: "If I'm on chicago team jay cutler has to wait till me and the team shower get dressed and leave before he comes in the locker room!"
Kirk Morrison: "If my knee was hurt or acl/mcl/pcl sprain, I would not be standing up on the sideline."
Ross Tucker: "I've hurt my knee playing football 4 times. Never once did I then stand up on sidelines afterwards."
Derrick Brooks: "FOX HAVENT SHOWED ANY TRAINERS LOOKING AT CUTLER, UMMM."
Maurice Jones-Drew: "Hey I think the urban meyer rule is effect right now... When the going gets tough........QUIT..All I'm saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee... I played the whole season on one..."
Deion Sanders: "Folks i never question a players injury but i do question a players heart. Truth."
Asante Samuel: "I will jus say his 5 step drop back looked fine to me."
What makes all of this worse is the fact that he's playing on a team that has built their legacy on grit and toughness. The Bears franchise prides itself on its roots in hard-nosed, smash-mouth football.
The fact that Cutler appeared to quit in this game, on this stage and against this team will make it almost impossible for him to repair his image in Chicago or around the league.
Like it or not, the court of public opinion carries a lot of weight in today's sports world. Justified or not, the backlash from something like this can follow a player for years.
Bears fans are calling for Cutler's head on a platter. He might always be seen as a goat in the Windy City, even if he does have some sort of injury. The thought is, if you can walk, you can play. If he is forced out of Chicago, someone will give him a shot, but he might never get a shot like the one he just had slip through his fingers (his fault or not).
It appears that Cutler has the support of his teammates.
Pro Bowl linebacker and Bears team captain, Brian Urlacher, was one of the most vocal supporters of Cutler when asked about his injury. While some may question the heart and toughness of the Bears quarterback, I doubt many would venture to question that of Urlacher.
Until an MRI can offer some definitive proof either way, the jury is still out on this one.
Early returns indicate that Jay Cutler is losing in the court of public opinion, but he may get the last word if an MRI proves there was indeed a legitimate injury.
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