The end of the NFC championship game left the Bears and their fans with the taste of horseradish in their mouth. Not only did they have to watch the arch-rival Packers celebrating a conference title on the Soldier Field turf, they had to listen to criticisms of their quarterback, Jay Cutler, from NFL players around the league and fellow fans. Cutler had to be taken out of that game due to an MCL tear, and the signalcaller's toughness (or lack thereof) became a polarizing subject on radio call-in shows and sports blogs for weeks, splitting up the Windy City the way the baseball season normally does. It seemed half of the population was defending Cutler, the other half was blaming him.
Yet for all the talk about the Bears quarterback, there has been one person who hasn't said a word since January 23: Jay Cutler. Since his postgame press conference that evening, when the QB said he wanted to continue playing in the second half after hurting his knee in the second quarter of the game, he's given as many noteworthy sound bites as Harpo Marx. It's not uncommon for players to go into hiding from the end of their season until the team reconvenes again for the next season, and with the lockout, that time span is longer than usual. Still, both the teammates that backed him, the critics who knocked him and fans on both sides of the argument deserve to hear from Cutler.
What exactly would he say, if he were to speak? Who knows? Maybe Cutler would inform us that his knee rehab is ahead or behind schedule, that he's working on his footwork or trying to improve his passing accuracy. Perhaps he'd share his thoughts on what the NFLPA is doing in the labor negotiations or comment on what he thinks Chicago should do in the draft. Anything would suffice. Even Lovie Smith, when asked at the NFL Scouting Combine if he knows if Cutler is recovered from the knee injury, wasn't exactly sure. "I assume he is," the Bears head coach said.
Instead, the only news about Cutler came from the Hollywood gossip website TMZ.com, which filmed Cutler and his girlfriend walking in Los Angeles four days after the loss to Green Bay. Yes, walking. That caused more fodder for the people who said he wasn't tough, and that Cutler was just faking an injury so he'd have an excuse for his poor performance in the first half of the conference championship. It added to their argument after the QB was filmed standing, without crutches on the Bears sidelines during their fourth-quarter rally against Green Bay. Those on the other side of the discussion pointed to quotes by doctors, who explained that a Grade II MCL sprain doesn't prevent one from standing or walking; it impacts an ability to cut and pivot, essentially making Cutler a statue in the pocket.
If he wants to remain the leader of the Bears for the foreseeable future and have the trust of his teammates, coaches and fans, Cutler needs to speak.
Cutler could go on a radio show and answer some questions about the way the season ended. Talk to the media for promotional purposes. Even posting something on Twitter would be fine (@JayCutler6 has been quiet since Jan. 20, three days prior to the Packers game). After the weeks of other people discussing him, the quarterback could do himself a big favor by making headlines in a positive manner.
Stay silent much longer, and Cutler's toughness won't be the only thing people will question.
This article first appeared in the Pro Football Weekly print edition dated April 2011, which previews the 2011 NFL draft. The print edition breaks down the top five players at each position, including a summary of what the player brings to the table and a projection of where he'll get drafted. We also give you other top 100 picks, Audibles and Combine data for each position. The issue also includes Nolan Nawrocki's mock draft, a profile of Missouri QB Blaine Gabbert and a commentary on the labor situation by publisher Hub Arkush. You can purchase a copy of the NFL draft preview print edition at retail outlets across the country or online at PFWstore.com, where you can buy either a print copy or an electronic (PDF) version.