While several former and current NFL players complain about the toughness of Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, his teammates vehemently defend Cutler and claim there was a sound reason for Cutler leaving his team early in the third quarter of a 21-14 NFC Championship loss to the Green Bay Packers.
When Chicago mortgaged their future on Cutler in 2009 by dealing two first-round picks and a second-round draft selection, along with quarterback Kyle Orton, to attain his services, they expected a franchise quarterback to lead them to the promise land. Though he struggled in his first year with the Bears, he took them within one game of a Super Bowl appearance in his second season.
Critics have said he is not an upper echelon quarterback, but his 2010 statistics were not far off those who are considered the best at the position. The Packers Aaron Rodgers is one of those lauded as a top tier quarterback, yet Cutler had just five less touchdown passes and five more interceptions than Rodgers in 2010 with a lesser talented receivers corps.
That does not ease the anguish of Bears fans after Cutler completed just six of 14 passes for 80 yards before bowing out of a loss to their arch rivals. The media has spent their time since his departure trying to find the moment Cutler hurt himself, something Cutler himself was unable to pinpoint. Critics also wonder why Cutler was allowed to walk to the locker room at halftime instead of having his injury treated.
Bears center Olin Kruetz thought he saw Cutler hobbling towards the locker room, so the question has to arise if Cutler failed to mention his injury to the Bears training staff or if anyone else failed to alert them considering it appears they failed to notice the hitch in Cutler's gait themselves. "I know my body", he said, “I was going to keep playing but, you know, they made the decision that giving Todd (Collins) a shot would better suit the team.”
The critics were also found in the Bears own clubhouse after the defeat. "I don’t see a brace on that knee. Do you?”, said one Bear player left unnamed.
Whomever the blame is temporarily laid on, Cutler, the Bears coaches, or training staff, the problem mostly symbolizes the modern day NFL quarterback that Roger Goodell has molded. One who is so coddled that he is considered gutless when he stands on the sideline claiming his knee aches yet surrounded by cameras when his team wins because of a superior defensive effort.
The game today has very few leaders willing to pull a Johnny Unitas and hobble out onto the gridiron in order to be there when his team needs him most. A player willing to gamble his contract, endorsements, and football future all for a shot at winning a championship ring.
One Packer the Bears fans disliked but respected was Brett Favre. Favre was built like other legendary Green Bay leaders who defeated Chicago too often for their fans tastes. Packer Hall of Famers like Arnie Hebner and Bart Starr who were renowned for their gritty leadership as much as any other intangible they had that made them champions. Like them, Favre built his legend on picking up his slammed carcass off the turf and winning the game at the end.
Part of the reason the Bears fans dislike for Favre is the fact they haven't had a tough quarterback of their own for a long time since Hall of Famer Sid Luckman retired in 1950 after having won four championships. Bill Wade was fairly tough at times, leading them to a title in 1963, but he was a Bear for only for six years and split time with Ed Brown and Rudy Bukich most of his career. Jim McMahon led Chicago to a title in 1985, but he was hurt and missed several games in each of his seven seasons with the team.
Luckman's 14,686 passing yards still leads all Bear quarterbacks 61 years after he retired. A yardage total Drew Brees has almost surpassed in just his last three years with the New Orleans Saints. Cutler was brought in to finally topple Luckman from the top of the Bears passing yards mountain, but now there are members of the media questioning if he will return next year after his latest actions.
Caleb Hanie was put on the field with a erroneous gamble by the Bears coaching staff that luckily paid off almost to a Super Bowl showdown with the Pittsburgh Steelers. After the 39-year old Collins, most likely playing in his last NFL game, failed miserably in a few passing attempts, Chicago inserted a second-year pro who had 14 career passing attempts that resulted in eight completions and an interception.
The problem was that the move happened before the third quarter ended, thus nullifying Cutler and Collins from the rest of the contest. If Hanie had been hurt from that point on, Chicago would have been stuck with inserting another position player behind center. Hanie stayed upright and almost led his team back, going 13-of-20 for 153 yards and a scoring pass. He also threw a key pass that led to another score, but tossed two key interceptions. One was returned for a touchdown and the other sealed a Packers victory.
The next six months should find Cutler hiding from the voracious Chicago press if his knee does not require any surgical procedure. Many will question whether or not Cutler has that rare intangible to be a champion, even though he took his team just 60 minutes away from playing for one. Critics will point out how he failed to win much in college or in his three seasons with the Denver Broncos.