The Packers and Steelers made it to the Super Bowl, right? The reaction to Chicago Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler’s injury has deflected the headlines away from the big game, and the NFL community is still abuzz with opinion. Unless you were lucky enough to be on an isolated tropical island over the frigid weekend, you’re probably aware of Cutler leaving the NFC Championship Game early in the second half with a knee injury. He could walk on the sidelines and watch the game in full football gear, but the controversial signal caller was not able to take the field. After backup Todd Collins struggled mightily, third-string QB Caleb Hanie (epic moustache, huh?) gave the Bears a comeback hope in rallying the team to within one score. The combination of Cutler sitting out, Hanie’s valiant effort and the Chicago loss set off a seemingly unprecedented quote and Twitter firestorm of current and ex-NFL players.
First of all, it is dangerous territory for the media or fans to question an NFL player’s toughness, especially a quarterback who got sacked more than any other in the league this season. If you have ever been on an NFL sideline, there is no doubt that it takes a high amount of physical toughness to play the game. But what about the mental toughness to fight through the pain of a sprained MCL while your team is down 14-0, and you haven’t moved the ball all day? That question seems to be the central point of the debate that has engulfed NFL players, media and fans.
It definitely looked bad as Cutler stood there on the sideline, with no crutches and receiving no treatment. When many controversies arise, the media is often blamed for “blowing it out of proportion”. But in this case, it was actually current and ex-NFL players with the scathing commentary. Former gridiron legends (and Super Bowl champs) like Mark Schlereth, Derrick Brooks and Deion Sanders all questioned Cutler’s heart and/or toughness. Current players like Maurice Jones-Drew and Darnell Dockett were very critical on Twitter about Cutler quitting on the Bears. Whether you agree or disagree with them, there is no question the sports conversation has changed with instant analysis via social media.
As far as the future, I was asked on a Michigan radio show if the Cutler issue could affect the Bears’ view of their quarterback for the long term. I just don’t see it. The only problem that could arise would be a Chicago teammate questioning their offensive leader, but there was no sign of that after the emotional loss. While some fans in the Windy City may be frustrated, they just need a quick history lesson to calm down. If you look at the two decades before Cutler, Erik Kramer’s 1995 season was the zenith of Chicago QB play. Rex Grossman was the signal caller on the running game and defense team that made the Super Bowl in 2006, but he was generally viewed as mediocre at best. From Shane Matthews to Steve Stenstrom to Cade McNown to Jonathan Quinn to Craig Krenzel, Chicago fans should have learned the history lesson that the Bears’ situation could be much worse than losing an NFC Championship Game.