Never before has the football world seen anything like this. Fans, current and former players, former coaches, and analysts are all lining up to call out a player’s toughness. Publicly his teammates have shown support for Jay Cutler, but privately some teammates don’t believe Cutler did everything he could to go back out onto the field.
Chicago is a city that doesn’t let its scapegoats off very easy (See Steve Bartman). Cutler wasn’t exactly the most popular Bears player on the team before this incident, due to his high interception totals and off-putting personality, and surely now after the NFC Championship game he is the most despised. Cutler may not survive the offseason as a Chicago Bear, but is it really fair that he is receiving all this criticism?
As a lifelong Packers fan, I have seen my share of Jay Cutler. Throughout his career he has reminded me of Brett Favre without any of the leadership ability. He relies a lot on his arm strength and has a complete lack of fundamentals. His decision making ability leaves a lot to be desired, and he defiantly said after throwing 4 interceptions to DeAngelo Hall in Week 7 that he’d, “Still go after (him).” He has gotten the reputation of a jerk, which is probably part of the reason so many NFL players were quick to call out his toughness. Quite frankly Jay Cutler has a lot of traits that I would not want my starting quarterback to have, but I don’t think Cutler possesses a lack of toughness.
While most fans idolize the players who will do everything they can to play through injury, few people stop and think of what is best for the team. It’s one thing to play through an injury, but a completely other thing to be able to play well through an injury. Many analysts are comparing Jay Cutler’s situation to that of Philip Rivers’ AFC Championship game where he played on a partially torn ACL. I even listed it as the 7th toughest performance by a player this decade. However what most people forget is that Philip Rivers had a terrible game, going 19 of 37 for 211 yards and 2 interceptions with no touchdowns. Perhaps the injury really hampered Phillips’ ability and the Chargers would have been better off going with a backup.
Same thing goes for the NFC Championship game. Before coming out of the game, Cutler had gone 6 of 14 for only 80 yards and an interception. There was no indication from watching the game that Cutler was going to figure it out in time to lead the Bears to victory. It doesn’t really matter if Cutler came out of the game because of injury or ineffectiveness, because the Bears were not going to win the game the way Cutler was playing. Maybe Cutler could have stuck it out there and played through the pain like his peers would have done, but doing so likely would have been going against what’s best for the team. Bringing in 3rd string QB Caleb Hanie actually sparked the offense and gave the Bears a legitimate chance at winning the game.
Maybe if Cutler was more concerned with public perception, he would have hobbled along on the sidelines and done everything he could to look injured like a certain quarterback did this year. But that’s just not Cutler’s personality. You can blame the Bears’ loss on Cutler’s performance and I would agree, even though a terrible offensive line didn’t do him any favors. You can also admire a player’s determination to do anything he can to stay on the field and play through injury and conversely despise a player who is not willing to do so. But before people crucify Cutler, I would argue that Cutler’s rational and selfless decision to let a healthy QB play didn’t hurt the team, but ultimately gave the Bears a chance at winning. Maybe Cutler doesn’t have what it takes to be a QB in this league, but he doesn’t deserve to be given the worst label you can give to an athlete in a team sport: A Quitter.