SportSunday: Cutler’s critics are way out of line, but it’s probably his own damned fault

Let’s establish something here and now: I detest Jay Cutler. He’s an entitled, punk-ass little sulk whose attitude makes everyone around him worse. The way he handled his exit from Denver was remarkable in one key respect: he managed to make Josh McDaniel look mature and competent by comparison. As wrong as Coach McSkippy was about everything else during his less-than-two-year tenure with the Broncos, he was right about Cutler. If only he hadn’t thought Tim #tebowtears was the answer.

So the forthcoming defense of Jay Cutler isn’t about liking him. As Crash Davis said in Bull Durham, “show us that million-dollar arm, ’cause I got a good idea about that five-cent head of yours.” He was 11-35 in college and despite Hall of Fame physical skills he’s a mere .500 as a starter in the pros. If the Bears ever accomplish anything it will be despite him, not because of him. When the chips are down, guys like Cutler find a way to lose.

That said, all the people who are dogging him for coming out of the game with a banged-up knee during last week’s NFC Championship Game loss to Green Bay are way, way out of line. I expect all kinds of asshaberdashery out of the sports talk radio crowd, which thrives on callers who are frequently even dumber than most of the hosts. And this week didn’t disappoint. Cutler just quit in the middle of the game because … because … well, because he didn’t want to play. Or something. I wish I were exaggerating for effect, but this is literally the level of nuance and analytical rigor I was hearing driving around the last few days. Jebus, Bears fans were burning his jersey (granted, how much psychological balance should we expect from people who bought a Cutler jersey in the first place…)

Unfortunately, Cutler was taking the same kind of crap from analysts and players around the league. Trent Dilfer (who’s usually pretty sharp) called him out on ESPN, saying “You can play this position (QB) hurt. Some of us have.” Yes, Trent, you are much macho. You never played this hurt, though. Pedicure poisoning must be affecting your memory. Dilfer once suffered a sprained MCL and it took him out of the lineup until it healed, which is different from “cowboyed up and played through it.” He suffered a couple other notable injuries in his career, a concussion and an Achilles, and those also put him on the bench. The legend of Trent Dilfer is notably devoid of tales about the time time he put the whole team on his back and drug them on two broken legs 99 yards through an enraged Hall of Fame defense. If I’m missing some detail here fill me in, but otherwise Trent needs to relax and drink a nice tall glass of STFU Juice©.

And since we now have Twitter, which allows us to demonstrate our stupidity to the world instantly,we got to hear from the Jags’ Maurice Jones-Drew and Cardinals tackle Darnell Dockett:

Said Jones-Drew: “Hey I think the urban meyer rule is effect right now… When the going gets tough……..QUIT.. … All I’m saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee… I played the whole season on one…”

Said Dockett: “If I’m on chicago team jay cutler has to wait till me and the team shower get dressed and leave before he comes in the locker room!”

Nobody is questioning Mo-Jo’s toughness, and he did play with a meniscus tear. I’d observe (as a guy who has had a meniscus tear) that they come in different varieties – some you can play through, in pain, and others (like the tear I had) you can’t even straighten your leg out. All knee injuries aren’t alike. As for Dockett, I can’t find anything online suggesting that he has any experience with this level of injury, either. So maybe sitting on the couch while other teams keep playing made him bitter. Hard to say.

As for Cutler’s diagnosis? Grade II MCL tear. On his plant leg. Which means that the issue wasn’t Cutler’s toughness, but whether the knee was wobbling around too badly to throw off of.

Despite the injury report, despite the assurances of Bears coach Lovie Smith, despite some pointed words from Brian Urlacher (a man widely regarded as something of an expert on toughness), the whole damned world seems to have instantly concluded that Cutler pussed out. Why is that? If the same thing had happened to Peyton Manning, or Tom Brady, or Aaron Rodgers, or Brett Favre, what would the public reaction have been? Would sports talk have blowed up over what gutless Nancy-boys they were?

Not likely. I think the reigning assumption about players like this is that if they come out of the game, something bad must be wrong. They get the benefit of the doubt, whereas the same crowd starts dogging Cutler right around the time the game kicks off.

There’s a lesson in the Cutler case for other players, especially younger players, no matter what sport they’re in. (For that matter, the lesson applies to non-athletes, as well, because attitude counts no matter what you’re doing.) In short, people aren’t calling #6 a quitter because they think he laid down. They think he laid down because he’s proven, time and time again, that he lacks character. From the first time something went wrong on the field in Denver, people noticed the body language. He has been perceived as guy who, instead of taking responsibility, blames his teammates. He embarrassed himself when he got involved in an on-field smack-talking confrontation with another punk, Chargers QB Philip Rivers, in a blowout loss. His results rarely lived up to what might be expected of a guy with his tremendous physical talent. He threw lots and lots of interceptions.

And when McSkippy botched an attempt to quietly trade Cutler for Matt Cassel, #6 had an opportunity to react like a genuine pro. He didn’t. He acted like a spoiled four year-old. Once he arrived in Chicago, his first move wasn’t to hit the field and project a new brand as a committed, hard-working champion. Instead, he and some image marketeers hit Michigan Ave. and got his GQ on.

Maybe some of this is unfair, but as former NFL coach Dennis Green once said, “if you don’t control your image, your image will control you.” Early on in his NFL career the perception of Cutler emerged as a sulky guy who did not carry himself like a winner, who didn’t go all-in every game, who let off-the-field concerns compromise his professional focus.

In the end, it’s possible that Cutler’s biggest crime – maybe his only crime – is that he’s just not somebody who’s very good at image management. However, and this much is for certain, we’ve now reached a point where there’s only one thing that’s going to rescue the man’s image, and that’s winning. Not regular season winning, but post-season winning, preferably winning that results in photos of him triumphantly hoisting the Lombardi Trophy. If he’s able to do this after having a blind-side blitzer literally rip a limb off, so much the better, because nothing answers challenges to your toughness like blood and bone protruding through the skin.

I’m not hoping for any of this, mind you, because had he been a better man I might not be sitting here right now looking down the barrel at a couple dark years with Tim Fucking Tebow as my team’s personal Lord and savior franchise quarterback. Every time he overthrows an open receiver by 10 yards I’m going to remember Cutler’s million-dollar arm and five-cent head.

In the meantime, if you’re serving up the HaterAde, pour me a glass. But let’s keep the criticism reality-based. Slap Cutler around all you like for his actual shortcomings – there have been plenty. If you want to bitch about last week, focus on the 6-14, the pick and the 31.8 QB rating he posted before leaving the game. But leave the knee alone, because once that happened the only thing he could have done on the field was hurt the Bears even worse. Carping about it does nothing for you but damage your credibility.

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  1. Matt
    Posted January 31, 2011 at 4:24 pm | Permalink

    I’m a Packer fan, so I was feeling pretty good about that game. However, I felt for the Bears’ fans in relation to Cutler. I recognize he was hurt. But why did he sit on a bench at the back of everything with his hood on. Get a crutch and go stand on the sideline! Cheer for your team! Talk with your third string quarterback when he comes off the field! Don’t just sit there!

    If I’m Brian Urlacher, I’m inviting Cutler over for dinner and telling him what it means to be a leader on the Chicago Bears. Then we’re spending the summer together training and learning from each other. Cutler needs to bring Urlacher’s attitude to the offense for Chicago to be truly successful.

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