Jay Cutler now can point to an MRI result and say, "See, I was injured." But that doesn't mean all is forgiven when it comes to how Cutler is perceived moving forward.
When it comes to what people see, perception sometimes is reality and, injury aside, Cutler flat out quit on his team yesterday. He defined "gutless" in his total lack of ambition to try and get back in the game, or help the teammates who replaced him.
So while the injury can exonerate Cutler from a physical standpoint, as several other people point out, attitude and body language say a lot, and Cutler's actions spoke volumes.
Head Coach Lovie Smith defended Cutler on Monday, saying they tried to play Cutler again, but that he just couldn't go, characterizing the injury as a "sprain."
Reports from the Chicago Sun-Times indicated it was a tear, but that is a gray area that will get sorted out as the story develops. Bottom line is there was an actual injury, and it's how Cutler reacted to that injury that got everyone fired up.
Almost universal condemnation of Cutler swept across the Internet and Twitterverse after frequent shots of Cutler looking completely healthy were broadcast across the nation. Several NFL players openly questioned Cutler's heart and the extent of his injury because of what they saw on television.
Granted none of these people, including the sportswriters, were on the sideline or privy to what the medical staff said, but at the end of the day, it appears to just about everyone that Cutler gave up.
Cutler had an injured MCL, but that argument becomes an automatic fail when you consider Philip Rivers played almost the entire 2007-08 AFC Championship game against New England on a torn ACL. Rivers knew a Super Bowl was on the line and gutted it out. This isn't to say what Rivers did was smart, but it shows the guts and determination he had to win that game, something Cutler quite obviously did not have.
Cutler didn't even try and put a brace on and fight to stay in the game. Cutler shrugged his shoulders and put his coat on. Sure, he bravely tried to ride an exercise bike for a minute or so, but really, why risk further injury when the stakes are only for a Super Bowl?
Prior to Caleb Hanie entering the game, Cutler could be seen contemplating the universe on the bench instead of looking for a way to get back in the game. He wasn't arguing with the coach, he wasn't demanding the trainers find a brace or something to stabilize his knee so he could finish the game. He sat quietly on the bench, resigned to his fate.
Woe is me.
Once Hanie entered the game, did Cutler even try and help the young quarterback who hasn't had the experience Cutler has had in order to try and advance the Bears to a Super Bowl?
No. Cutler sat silently, occasionally nodding his head, whenever he took a break from feeling sorry for himself.
Do you think Josh McDaniels is organizing his 2011 "I told you so!" tour at the moment?
Cutler always has had the skills to be an elite quarterback in the NFL, but several insiders have criticized his attitude and commitment, with almost all of them saying Cutler doesn't have the same commitment to the game Peyton Manning and Tom Brady do.
And that's why Cutler never will be Manning or Brady. Cutler only is interested in the game if he's in it. If he's out, don't bother him, he has moping to do.
There's no doubt many other quarterbacks would've had to have been tied to the bench to be kept out of the game, and once the backup was shown to be ineffective, they would rather have been shot than turn the ball over to the third string quarterback if there was even the slightest chance they could get on the field.
Smith can defend Cutler all he likes, and really, that's his job. But now not only do you have to question Cutler's heart, you have to question what Smith knew.
Did Smith see that between the subpar first half and the injury that Cutler had already checked out? If he did, he's not saying, nor will he. Smith is far too professional for that. Smith needed to win a game, and was pulling the trigger fast.
It's possible that when Smith saw Cutler just take a seat on the bench, he knew Cutler was not an option, then threw the grenade on the field and put in Hanie after Todd Collins looked completely ineffective.
All we know at this point is what we don't know. But what we perceive tells us a lot, and nothing we've heard in the last day changes what we saw from Cutler yesterday.
We saw a thoroughly beaten man who didn't have the heart to get off the bench, or to even turn his head and offer counsel to a fellow teammate.