What happened next was truly astounding. Analysts began questioning whether Cutler had taken himself out, Twitter exploded with Cutler-induced vitriol, and current players quickly joined the lynch mob. The crazy thing? Nobody knew the severity of Cutler's injury. Almost everyone in the media just assumed that it wasn't that bad, and that Cutler must have quit on his team.
Why were so many media members so willing to ignore the facts and assume Cutler wasn't hurt that badly? Because it fit the narrative that most media members wanted. Jay Cutler has never been a friend to the media. His personality isn't one that blooms in front of the cameras, and the media take offense to that. All you have to do is read Rick Reilly's piece on Cutler to understand the relationship. In it, Reilly takes a shot at Cutler for not wanting to be interviewed by a reporter about the charity work he had done with a children's hospital. Good point, Rick. It's not what you do, it's whether you get in front of a camera and talk about it. They hate that he has the nerve to not make them part of his everyday life, and when the time came, they made him pay for it. Sure, Cutler may rub many people the wrong way, fans included, but nobody deserves the kind of character assassination that went on Sunday afternoon.
But Jay Cutler has a track record of being soft, right? Not even close. Cutler faces massive hurdles that no other QB in the NFL faces. He's a Type 1 diabetic playing QB in the NFL, and that in itself is enough to prove his toughness. Just one of the side effects of diabetes is that cortisone shots aren't a viable option due to their tendency to cause adverse blood sugar reactions. Anyone familiar with the world of professional sports knows that cortisone shots have long been the remedy of choice for players in pain. Even pain killers can be a dicey subject with a diabetic. Yet, Cutler has overcome his disease and in the process, become an inspiration to kids with diabetes throughout the country.
Even without the aid of cortisone shots and some pain medications, Jay Cutler has missed exactly one game in his career. He played behind one of the worst O-Lines in football this year while leading the league in sacks taken, and his only missed game was the result of the NFL's new concussions policy. Defensive players hammered him over and over, but Cutler kept getting back up. Ask Bears fans about him and many will admit that they're surprised he made it this far without a major injury. That's how bad things were this year, but, outside of the concussion, Cutler was on the field competing every single Sunday. People should feel free to criticize Cutler's performance on the field or even his demeanor, but there should never be any questioning of his toughness.
Peyton Manning. Tom Brady. Brett Favre. All of these QBs would have gotten the benefit of the doubt had they been on the sideline with a knee injury on Sunday. Those are the perks that go along with being a media darling. Whereas the guy who purposefully makes himself a media outcast gets unfair speculation that he quit on his team. Once again, Jason Whitlock (Is it a coincidence this article came out today?) lead the way with his absurdity. Whitlock not only bashed Cutler for being soft, but he also made the assertion on Twitter that it wouldn't matter whether Cutler's injury turned out to be serious. Why wouldn't that matter you ask? Because Whitlock supposedly played his last season with a torn ACL. Now assuming that's even accurate, where does that logic stop? The great Jason Whitlock played O-Line at Ball State with a torn ACL (allegedly) so how can any NFL player dare to leave the field? Someone get in touch with all of the players on injured reserve with ACL tears to let them know that they're soft. Wait, don't forget to criticize everyone who missed games this year due to an MCL tear. If they truly loved the game, they wouldn't be missing games. Unfortunately, Whitlock wasn't the exception in this case, he was the rule. Why should the media care about the facts when given an opportunity to bury Cutler? To them, he doesn't deserve any better because he has the nerve to avoid fully embracing his place in the spotlight.
Whitlock's comments also bring about another way of thinking that needs to be put to rest. Every player's body is different, and they all respond differently. Ronnie Lott once decided he'd rather have part of his finger amputated than miss the next season. Does that mean that every player should be expected to make the same decision or face being called soft? Absolutely not. Some people are just blessed with extraordinary pain tolerance. I know it's popular for everyone sitting on their couch to offer that they wouldn't have left the field without a stretcher, but how can anyone know for certain? The only way to truly know how you would respond to that kind of situation is to experience it yourself. Until that happens, the Monday morning QBs need to take the hyperbole down a notch or twelve.
Even worse, were the attacks on Cutler coming from players and former players around the league. Here's a collection of some of those attacks. As Brian Urlacher angrily pointed out:
"Who cares what they think? That's my response to them. They are not playing in this game. Jay was hurt, obviously. There's no reason for him to be out there if he can't get it done. He was obviously hurt pretty bad or he would have played.
"For them to question his toughness is stupid to me."Urlacher is right, the attacks on Cutler reeked of jealousy. Deion Sanders captained the NFL Network assault on Cutler while forgetting that he only played eleven games due to a toe injury in 1998. Maurice Jones-Drew tweeted: "All I'm saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee... I played the whole season on one..." MJD apparently already forgot that he missed the last two games of the season when the Jaguars were fighting their asses off to earn a playoff bid. Some analysts cited Tom Brady's playing an entire season with a stress fracture in his foot, but they conveniently left out the fact that Brady left the AFC Championship Game in 2001 due to injury. Again, the facts are inconvenient little buggers.
A Barry Cofield quote from Matt Mosley's ESPN article rings especially true in this situation.
"A wise man once told me that it's easy to be tough with somebody else's body"
At some point, doing what's best for the team took a back seat to being tough. Players who gritted out injuries are lauded for their devotion to the team, but playing hurt isn't always what's best for the team. Philip Rivers get's praised for playing in the 2007 AFC Championship Game with a torn ACL, but no one pays attention to HOW he played. While it was certainly gutsy for Rivers to play, I think his backup, Billy Volek, could have thrown up a 46.1 QB rating. Especially when you consider that Volek was instrumental in helping the Chargers finish off the Colts after Rivers was forced out of the game. It's entirely possible that Rivers hurt his team by playing at well below 100% health.
Can we honestly say that Cutler, with an injured knee that felt unstable, prevented him from planting, and kept him from pushing off during the throw, was the best option for the Bears at that point? Now, he didn't make the call to remove himself, but it seems to me that that call could very well have been the right one for the team (The bigger blunder was having Hanie as the third string QB instead of the second). To highlight this point, I'll take you to the famous AFC Championship comeback that propelled Peyton Manning to his first Super Bowl victory. During the second-to-last drive of the game, Peyton smashed his thumb against a lineman's helmet. On the sidelines, it was obvious that he was having trouble gripping the ball, and at one point the camera's caught him telling Jim Sorgi to be ready. Peyton seemed to realize that if he couldn't grip the ball, Sorgi gave them the best chance to win. Now, Peyton was going to do everything in his power to play, but if it wasn't going to work, it was better to give way to someone that could get the job done if it meant the Colts would have a chance to win. Being able to step aside and let the more effective player take the field is the sign of a true team player.
In the end, the damage has been done. Jay Cutler's toughness and reputation have been unfairly tarnished by a controversy that never should have gotten started in the first place.