When Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler came out of Sunday's NFC Championship Game with an apparent knee injury, everyone and their mother raced to question his heart, his will to win, and his (ahem!) manhood. After the Bears lost to the Green Bay Packers, 21-14, the accusations started flying in all directions, as fans and former players lampooned Cutler for not gutting it out while Chicago players lashed out at the horde of detractors. News that Cutler suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee (akin to a slight tear) barely put a dent in the firestorm of criticism.
It's often impossible or unnecessary to apportion blame in situations like this. But this time, it's easy: Everyone's to blame. Everyone except Cutler.
The players are to blame. A horde of NFLers whose teams had long since been been eliminated from the Super Bowl hunt became what they claim to despise: judgmental couch potatoes. "There is no medicine for a guy with no guts and no heart," tweeted former linebacker Derrick Brooks, who briefly became relevant again for all the wrong reasons. Jaguars' running back Maurice Jones-Drew did Brooks one better, joking, "I think the Urban Meyer rule is in effect right now... When the going gets tough.......QUIT" despite having missed the last two games of the regular season with a knee injury of his own.
MORE ON NFL PLAYOFFS:
Jake Simpson: NFL Playoffs: Your Guide to Championship Sunday
Jake Simpson: NFL Playoffs: Your Guide to Division Title Weekend
Hampton Stevens: NFL Playoffs: Your Guide to Wild-Card Weekend
If some football players think of themselves as modern-day gladiators who should only leave the field of battle if they die or lose a limb, that's their prerogative. But criticizing a peer who is forcibly benched because he is physically unable to go on without a career-ending injury undermines player unity just weeks ahead of an all-but-certain labor dispute and reinforces the perception that real NFL men wreck their bodies. As former offensive guard, current ESPN analsyst, and resident meathead Mark Schlereth put it: "As a guy who had 20 knee surgeries you'd have to drag me out on a stretcher to leave a championship game!" The irony is palpable.