On a cold afternoon in Chicago, in the second quarter of the NFC Championship game featuring the rivaled Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, Jay Cutler peeled himself off the ground for the 57th time this season, with a bloody arm, a wobbly knee and a less-than-stellar first half of football.
Cutler compiled just a 31 QB rating in the first half of Sunday's game, which the Bears lost 21-14 to the now NFC Champion Green Bay Packers.
And of all the things that deserved criticism in that first half—the poor decision to defer and kick off by Lovie Smith, the odd call of Mike Martz and a defense that played less than motivated—I never thought the toughness or heart of Jay Cutler would be the top issue.
His poor play? Certainly. But his toughness?
Cutler, against the wishes of his coaches and team doctors, took the field after halftime with a Grade 2 MCL injury and tried to play. He limped back and forth from the huddle, threw a poor pass to Hester, aided the team in going three-and-out and essentially did nothing but impair what the team could do with a fresh set of legs in the backfield.
So Lovie took him out.
Cutler was upset, reportedly, not wanting to leave the game and refused to remove his gear and go to the locker room, refused ice and medical treatment and stood on the sideline as if to let his coaches know, "I could still be in there."
And then it happened. As if a wave of stupidity took over the media and social networks, players and analysts turned on Cutler, questioning his grit, his ability to mentally be a quarterback in this league and his heart.
Within minutes of Cutler being sidelined, current players such as Darrell Dockett and Maurice Jones-Drew were taking shots at him on their Twitter accounts.
Yes, the same Maurice Jones-Drew who, when his team was in prime position to make a playoff push, sat the final two weeks of the regular season on the bench injured.
I don't recall this kind of backlash on Philip Rivers in his previous playoff run last year, where he was sidelined in a divisional playoff game and Billy Volek had to lead the Chargers to a win.
Yes, he played the following week with a brace, but he didn't finish that current game—and not one person questioned his heart, toughness or grit.
Do people understand how insane it sounds to question Jay Cutler's heart and toughness? Cutler was sacked 57 times this season, by far the most in the league.
He was once sacked nine times in a single half—an NFL record—against the New York Giants, found himself concussed and yet still didn't want to leave the field; the coaches had to literally force him into the locker room.
Never once did Cutler throw any of his teammates under the bus or call out one of his linemen. Never once did he point the finger and blame Mike Martz for his moronic play calls and unwillingness to adjust.
Not a single time did he confirm that he was playing with a rag-tag group of receivers, refusing to speculate on better players like Terrell Owens and Vincent Jackson.
But one half of football changed all that.
People quickly forgot the Jay Cutler who plowed his way through three Seahawks defenders for a touchdown last week to get the Bears to the NFC Championship.
They forget his Elway-esque helicopter touchdown into the end zone last year against the Lions.
They forget every run in which he sacrifices his body to get a first down instead of sliding, every television replay that saw him sandwiched, twisted and contorted in ways the human body should never endure.
Troy Aikman was quoted in a broadcast earlier this year saying: "You can question a lot of things about Jay Cutler, but you can't question his heart or his love of the game."
Apparently you can.
You may not like Jay Cutler. His body language, his attitude, his droopy eyes and dazed expression may frustrate fans and media alike.
Players hate him for "whining" his way out of Denver, yet accept the behavior from other players, for example, Carson Palmer, who just today demanded a trade from the Bengals.
Denver fans forget the only reason they had the honor of watching Elway play in a Broncos jersey was because he whined his way out of Baltimore, as did Eli Manning out of San Diego.
All of these things may cause you to curse Cutler and root for him to fail—but to question Cutler's love of the game, his mental and physical toughness and the tangible sacrifices he made for his team this year is just plain ignorant.
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