Updated Jan. 24, 2011 @ 5:55 p.m. ET
LAKE FOREST, Ill. — Bears head coach Lovie Smith confirmed that the MRI performed on Bears QB Jay Cutler's injured left knee Monday revealed a sprained medial collateral ligament.
"MCL sprain," Smith said. "That's what the injury was. We knew that. We had an idea at the time that that's what it was and that's what we're saying now."
Cutler hurt his knee late in the second quarter of Sunday's NFC championship game against the Packers at Soldier Field and was examined by doctors at halftime. He managed to play the opening series of the third quarter before being replaced by backup Todd Collins. Collins was ineffective in two series and was replaced by third-stringer Caleb Hanie, who rallied the Bears before falling short, 21-14.
Cutler's toughness was questioned by current and former players from other NFL teams, but Smith and his Bears teammates defended him Monday at Halas Hall.
"(Cutler) is a tough guy," Smith said Monday. "He wanted to win the game as much as anyone.
"It's pretty simple what happened yesterday. Before the half, Jay hurt his knee. He showed a lot of toughness to continue to play with it. Right before the half … the medical staff, we all of course made the decision then that he couldn't go. We took him in at the half to try to work on him, which we did. We got the treatment there at the halftime. Didn't know for sure if he would be able to go. He wanted to go and tried to go in the second half as he went back in that first series. Never want a player to be out on the football field and he just can't perform his duties."
Before being removed from the game, Cutler completed 6-of-14 passes for 80 yards with no TDs and one interception. He had performed brilliantly in the divisional-round victory over the Seahawks the previous week, throwing two TD passes and running for two scores in a 35-24 victory.
Smith was asked whether Cutler would have been able to return in time for the Super Bowl had the Bears advanced.
"If things had gone our way and we had made it to the Super Bowl, it would've been questionable (as to) whether he could have gone then," Smith said.
The way we see it
For all of the doubters and fans who were so quick to crucify Cutler for not continuing to play, the clarification about the severity of his injury should make them think twice about doubting Cutler in the future.
Cutler took a beating this season behind a subpar offensive line. He was sacked more times than any other quarterback and still managed to play in 17 of the team's 18 games this season, missing only the second half of the Week Four loss to the Giants and the next week's game against the Panthers after suffering a concussion.