The dust is beginning to settle after a potentially career-defining and painful two days for Bears QB Jay Cutler.
An MRI Monday revealed Cutler suffered a grade-2 sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his left knee late in the first half of the Bears' loss in the NFC championship game. He tried to play through the injury, but the sprain, which will not require surgery, made Cutler's knee unstable and hindered his lateral mobility. The medical staff and head coach Lovie Smith agreed that he should stay on the sideline after he tried to play on the first series of the third quarter.
The most visceral of the unfounded criticism Cutler faced came Sunday on Twitter and through other media outlets as he stood on the sideline in the second half of the Bears' loss in the NFC championship game nursing the knee injury. No one really knew the severity of it at the time, but it didn't stop some former and current NFL players from questioning his toughness.
At least one of Cutler's critics, Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew, who tweeted this on Sunday — "All I'm saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee ... I played the whole season on one" — backtracked on Monday, saying he had been joking. Cutler's teammates, head coach and general manager defended him after a team meeting on Monday, but the blow back wasn't as intense as the heat Cutler took in the immediate aftermath of Chicago's loss to Green Bay.
The PFW spin
For as much talk as there has been about Cutler for the past couple of days, we didn't learn much about the central figure in this situation. Cutler is not well-liked around the league and doesn't get the benefit of the doubt from some fans?
That's not a new development in Cutler's career.
His teammates are willing to stand up for him against critics?
We've been there and done that recently, and over and over again.
This moment does, however, give Cutler an opportunity to gain something he never received much of before, and that's sympathy. It's not that anyone should shed a tear for him. I'm sure no Bears fans are. But to have the one trait — toughness — that is so fundamentally associated with being a respected football player questioned by so many people with no sense of the pain or loss of mobility that Cutler was dealing with should have the opposite effect that his critics intended it to have.
The reaction has been so strong, and so wrong in many cases, that Cutler actually comes out of this looking like less of a bad guy and more like a victim of the ignorance of others. Rather than having a debate over Cutler's performance on Sunday, which was poor (he completed 6-of-14 passes for 80 yards and an interception), we're discussing whether he's tough.
We knew he could take a beating and battle through it before the game started on Sunday. We had seen it during the regular season, and he proved it again by trying to play through the injury early in the third quarter against Green Bay. Those who set fire to his jersey or let their initial emotions get the best of them before they spewed out something better left unsaid on Twitter look like many things. The kindest word to describe them may be shortsighted.
Where does Cutler go from here?
He needs to try to get better in the offseason. Cutler's not an elite quarterback yet, and there's some legitimate concern as to whether he realizes that.
One thing he shouldn't waste a second doing is trying to explain what happened after he hurt his knee on Sunday.