The Jay Cutler Legacy

In Sunday’s NFC Championship game, the Green Bay Packers defeated the Chicago Bears for the right to play in the Super Bowl 45 (I hate the roman numerals and refuse to use them). Over the course of the next two weeks, the matchup between the Steelers and Packers will be analyzed from every conceivable angle. Unfortunately for Jay Cutler, so will his courage and mental/physical toughness.

Obviously one of the more interesting plot lines that developed in this game was the Jay Cutler saga. Cutler left the second quarter a couple of seconds early with the Chicago training staff for the locker room. He came out after the half and played one possession before leaving the game for good. He was seen riding a bike in the second half and then standing at the end of bench, away from the rest of his team while Todd Collins then Caleb Hanie took the snaps. Hmmmmm.

There wasn’t a single play during the course of that first half that you could point to and explain how Cutler was hurt. Yes he was hit a couple of times but nothing that looked really all that bad. There was never that moment when we cringed after a big hit. This is the second half of the biggest game Cutler has ever played in and he is standing on the sidelines. This was most definitely curious. He wasn’t on crutches, he didn’t have ice on any part of his body, and he wasn’t really limping around. He just stood on the sideline and pouted.

Pretty much immediately, Cutler was attacked by members of the media and other football players for being a gutless coward. Maurice Jones-Drew, Darnell Dockett and many other current and former players and media lashed out at the quarterback from the comfort and safety of their couches. Check out some of the things that people said about Cutler:

Former Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks: “I have to be crawling and can’t get up to come off the field” and “There is no medicine for a guy with no guts and heart.” Ouch.

Deion Sanders said “I never question a player’s injury, but I do question a player’s heart.”

Arizona Cardinals lineman Darnell Dockett tweeted “If I’m on the Chicago team Jay Cutler has to wait ’til me and the team shower [and] get dressed and leave before he comes in the locker room.”

Mark Schlereth, current ESPN analyst said, “”As a guy [who has had] 20 knee surgeries you’d have to drag me out on stretcher to leave a championship game.”

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.” On a side note, is there any way to take a tweet out of context?

That was just a very small sampling of the darts thrown Jay Cutler’s way. The guy just got repeatedly crushed. I have to be honest and admit that I jumped on the Cutler hater bandwagon at the time as well. It just didn’t make sense to me. This was the biggest game of the Bears season and there is the starting quarterback sulking on the sidelines with no apparent injury. There is definitely a difference between being hurt and injured and Cutler just didn’t look injured.

Now that I have had two days to digest the events of the NFC Championship game and have found out that Cutler did in fact have a second degree sprain of his MCL, I have grown a little softer on bashing Cutler for not playing out the remainder of the game. The guy hurt the knee on the leg he plants with when dropping back to pass. He was playing behind an offensive line that wasn’t playing very well and he had already been hit several times. The Green Bay pass rush forced Cutler to move around and out of the pocket that entire first half. Does any of that sound very easy on a bum leg? Maybe it was in the best interest of the Bears to replace Cutler. Lovie Smith did end up saying in his press conference that it was his and the training staff’s call to remove Cutler from the game. I mean, other than those two interception, Caleb Hanie actually played really well and almost forced that game into overtime.

Cutler’s toughness has been called into question but should it? Is one game enough to paint a complete picture of player, even if it is a huge game? It definitely is debatable.

During the regular season, the Bears offense had given up 56 sacks and had given up 36 last season. That’s a lot of sacks! Cutler got crushed this year during the regular season and he only ended up missing one game, the first of his career, when the training staff wouldn’t clear him to play after sustaining a nasty concussion. Cutler has been hit more times than Lindsay Lohan during his career and has only missed one game.  Not to mention that he has to live everyday with diabetes. That sounds like a pretty tough quarterback to me.

Not only that, but by all appearances, his teammates are standing behind him as well. Brian Urlacher, one of the toughest players in the league and a great teammate (take that into consideration when judging his comments for yourself) answered all the critics by saying “Jay was hurt. I don’t question his toughness. He doesn’t bitch and complain when he gets hit.” I do think it’s fair to take all that into consideration when deciding on whether to label Cutler a gutless punk or not.

Part of the issue at hand here is that prior to this game, Cutler had already helped to paint a negative picture of himself. He is one of the most hated players in the NFL. He is hated not because he beats women, or drives drunk, but because he isn’t very outgoing. He doesn’t do very well with the media and it always appears that the guy just generally hates life. Very rarely do you see the man smile when out on the football field and his body language at times has been horrible. He has a clear disdain for any member of the media. I have heard Cutler be refered to as arrogant and as a punk and as a whiner. The standard impression of Cutler around the league is that he is an a-hole. In wrestling he would be refered to as “The Heel”. Anyone remember the tantrum he threw when Josh McDaniels took over the Broncos job which ended up leading to the Bears giving up a small fortune in draft picks to get Cutler? He also dates Kristin Cavallari of MTV’s The Hills. Not helping buddy.

Is this impression of Cutler entirely fair? Probably not. It’s tough to judge a person solely on how they interact in the public arena. I’m not sure how much I would like it if someone was pushing a microphone in my face everyday looking for a story or how I would react. Not everyone is comfortable in front of a TV camera with a mic in their face. There have been plenty of times when our perception of people has changed once we found what they were like in their private life (see Tiger Woods, Big Ben). Of course guys like Cutler are getting paid a lot of money so a little kindness and gentleness with the media is expected. So is toughness for that matter.

You do have to ask yourself the question; would Cutler have played the rest of the game if he wasn’t having an awful day? Cutler was 6/14 for 80 yards, no touchdowns, 1 interception, and a quarterback rating of 31.8. That is a really bad first half for a quarterback playing in a conference championship game. That’s a really bad first half in any game. There have been plenty of rumblings about Cutler shrinking like George Coztanza in big moments. I know this isn’t a perfect indicator but his completion percentage drops by at least five points on third downs. That’s when quarterbacks make the difference. You can’t obviously put all the blame on Cutler but keep in mind that this is first time he was played in the postseason since he was in high school.

One argument for Cutler staying in that game was that this was the biggest game of his career and that he may never again get the chance to play in a championship game. The other argument against Cutler is that other players have played through the pain with significant injuries. However, those players got the benefit of “the shot”. A pain killing injection so they don’t have to face too much pain.

Why didn’t Cutler just take the shot and stay in the game? Because of his type 1 diabetes, he can’t. It’s easy to sit there and blast a guy when sitting in the comfort of your own home when the thermostat is turned up to 75 degrees but it’s impossible to know exactly what was going through Cutler’s mind or what he was feeling when he left that game on Sunday with the temperature hovering around freezing. None of us were out on that field on Sunday. None of use were in Cutler’s shoes. We have no idea what was going on with him at that moment. I don’t think one instance, even if it’s in a huge game, should define a person. Especially when that person has shown over the course of his career that he is willing to stand in that pocket, take a beating, and keep getting up over and over again. Give the guy a break.

No matter what you think about Jay Cutler, whether it’s fair or not, is that this game will be with him for a long time. Him not playing the rest of the game will  be directly tied into whatever legacy he creates for himself, much the same as Donovan McNabb and that Super Bowl performance. This game will always hang over this head and his toughness will always be questioned. It just doesn’t seem very fair to me to call him a coward.

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One Response to “The Jay Cutler Legacy”

  1. Great article here. Man, the news never stops in the NFL eh? It has been really interesting to see all the different angles that people have been taking with regards to the Jay Cutler story. The players obviously have a dislike for Cutler and were not going to give him the benefit of the doubt on anything. I think it shows a lack of respect from his fellow NFLers, which can’t be a good sign for a player. Despite his god given abilities and him taking his team to the NFC Championship this year there is definitely something missing in Cutler. I personally think the players had the right to talk because, well, it’s a free country right. However, it can’t be any good for Cutler and Chicago has to figure out where they wanna go with their QB situation because I know a lot of NFL fans are calling for the Bears to go in a different direction. Also, you think you could check out my blog cuz I’d love to hear what you have to say. http://chrisross91.wordpress.com/2011/01/25/emotional-disconnect/

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