As the season inches closer to the Super Bowl, we should all be talking about a great matchup, featuring two of the greatest franchises in professional football, and the battle between two elite quarterbacks. Instead, Jay Cutler, and the most famous knee on the planet are grabbing all the headlines.
Cutler left in the third quarter of Sunday's NFC Championship, with an undisclosed knee injury. Cutler was unable to plant his leg, and according to reports, the training and coaching staff made the decision to hold Cutler out of the game. Cutler has drawn the ire from virtually everyone, from his own fans, to former and current players. Cutler has been labeled a "wuss" and a quitter. I jumped on the bandwagon, proclaiming Cutler as a wuss, but after looking at the situation, is it fair to pummel Cutler with criticism?
When you separate Cutler from his numbers, they don't reflect a "soft" QB. 2010 was Cutler's fourth year as a starting QB in the NFL. In those 4 seasons, he has missed just one start. He was also sacked 52 times in 2010, which led the league. He missed just one game this year, despite the abuse that comes with playing behind a horrid offensive line. Cutler has taken a lot of abuse this year, and has stood up to most of it.
Cutler's knee has also drawn comparison's to Philip Rivers in the 2007 AFC Championship. For those of you who don't remember, Rivers tore both the ACL and MCL in the divisional round, an injury that typically keeps players out for 6-9 months. Rivers had a quick clean-up surgery, took a cortisone shot, and played in the game. The performance is remembered as one of the gutsiest in recent history, and entrenched Rivers as an elite quarterback in most people's minds. The point that countless analysts brought up that Rivers played on a bum knee, so why couldn't Cutler?
It is very difficult to compare the situations, in my opinion. Rivers had an entire week to prepare, and to test the knee. He received treatments, and decided he could go. Cutler, however, had to make a much quicker decision, and didn't get the support of the team doctors. Plus Rivers performance in the aforementioned game(19-37, 211 yds, 2 int) wasn't a typical Rivers performance. It was obvious that the knee influenced his poor play, and perhaps he should have sat it out. With Cutler being nowhere close to himself, Lovie Smith decided that Caleb Hanie gave him a better chance to win.
Personally, I believe the reason that Cutler is being criticized, is because he is perceived as being unlikeable. I am no Cutler fan, he is a surly, whiny person, whose leadership abilities I have questioned many times in the past. Cutler sat on the bench and sulked, and wasn't seen on camera trying to cheer on his team. It is the same image that people remember when fans remember the demeanor of Ladainain Tomlinson in the 2007 AFC Championship.
If Cutler was a more likable player, such as a Peyton Manning, or Aaron Rodgers, he wouldn't attract as much criticism. The venom that current and former players have thrown in the face of Cutler has been unreal. I do not like Cutler because I feel he is a primadonna, but when you look at the numbers, Cutler is not soft. He has taken such a pounding this year, and helped the Bears get to within one game of a Super Bowl berth. His knee will recover, but his reputation will never be the same.