CHICAGO -- Jay Cutler sat alone on the bench as his Chicago Bears teammates fought for their playoff lives in the cold on a field made of clay. He moped, actually, with what the team described as a knee injury. Then he stood, and as he did, linebacker Brian Urlacher approached and spoke to Cutler briefly.
What Urlacher said is uncertain. He may have been wishing Cutler good luck. He may have been asking for stock tips. It looked like an interesting scene, at best, and an awkward one at worst.
When asked what he said to Cutler the Bears linebacker later remarked: "I don't remember."
|Cutler stands apart from his teammates in the fourth quarter at Soldier Field. (US Presswire)|
Cutler played the opening series of the second half and then never returned. He stood for much of it, his coat on, mostly away from his teammates. After the game, Cutler walked with a dramatic limp.
This is the part where it gets interesting. This is the part where how bad Cutler was injured became as big a story as the game itself. This is the part where a man's reputation started to take a beating even if it was unfair. Perhaps horribly unfair. Or perhaps not.
Chicago players were forced to defend Cutler after the Twitterverse lit up with criticisms of Cutler from NFL players. Not media. Not fans. But Cutler's own. When Tennessee runner Chris Johnson asked in a tweet what was wrong with Cutler, Titans teammate Kareem Brown responded in a tweet: "his Vagina hurts.... Chicago trainners ran outta Pads for him"
Maurice Jones-Drew tweeted similar questions about Cutler's injury wondering why Cutler was standing if his knee was hurt. Same with Kerry Rhodes. Tweeted Deion Sanders: 'Folks i never question a players injury but i do question a players heart. Truth'
There were many others.
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And some of the Cutler bashing wasn't just on Twitter. This was Packers linebacker Clay Matthews when asked if Cutler was confused by the defensive schemes: "You know, I didn't notice. Obviously, I looked out there and they had a new quarterback. So...I kinda' wish we had Jay in there the whole game the way things were going."
The Bears were forced to defend Cutler while also dealing with the pain of losing a close conference championship. It was a surreal scene. "Nothing like jealous people home watching," Urlacher said of the tweets. When asked about Rhodes, Urlacher said, "Who's he?"
"Jay was hurt," Urlacher said, "I don't question his toughness."
Bears center Olin Kreutz angrily called the tweeters "ignorant" and added that he saw Cutler's knee "wiggling."
"Hey guys," Smith said. "He hurt his knee and he was out."
Cutler said he injured the knee late in the second quarter. "It was stiff," he said, "I could barely move it." When asked if the issue was about mobility or stability Cutler responded, "Both."
It might be unfair to question the heart of Cutler. But it's going to happen until more details are released regarding exactly what's wrong. It may be wrong to insinuate he's a punk. But it's going to happen. Cutler's heart will be splayed open and examined because just when the Bears needed Cutler the most -- fairly or unfairly -- he wasn't there.
It may be wrong but it's going to happen. It already is.
A Super Bowl on the line. The long, hated rival on your field and the hero for the Bears was a third string quarterback named Caleb Hanie.
From the way Cutler was limping it wouldn't be stunning if he had torn ligaments. But none of that seems to be relevant. It's almost as if he's been condemned as a punk no matter the ensuing diagnosis.
One of the problems for Cutler and why there was such player outrage was his demeanor. Cutler mostly sat or stood alone. Then, at one point, when Hanie was on the sideline talking strategy with the offensive staff and the other backup, Todd Collins, Cutler stood in the distance somewhat aloof.
Hanie threw two interceptions and one was returned for a Green Bay score. But he looked like he was battling despite limited reps during the season and massive inexperience. It was in glaring contrast to Cutler.
In Chicago, you can be a criminal. You can be indicted and still be popular. But there is one thing in Chicago you can't be. You can't be soft.
Fairly or unfairly Cutler is being seen as soft and unless his ACL is ripped from the bone it's going to be a long offseason for him.
A long, long offseason.