Is the criticism of Cutler valid or is everyone just piling on because he’s Jay Cutler?

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler stands on the field before game against the Washington Redskins at Soldier Field in Chicago on October 24, 2010. UPI/Brian Kersey

Jay Cutler has an MCL tear in his left knee, although the severity of the injury is still unknown. In other words, we still don’t have enough information on whether or not he could have played in the second half against Green Bay.

But unless he’s having his leg amputated later this afternoon, he’ll still have plenty of folks questioning his toughness. People know what they saw on Sunday: A disinterested Cutler not fighting to get back into the biggest game of his life. He just stood or sat there, almost looking bored and/or annoyed that he had to watch the rest of the game from underneath his parka.

Former and current players have taken to Twitter to blast the Chicago QB. Maurice Jones-Drew pointed out that he played on a bad knee all season. Former Buccaneer great Derrick Brooks tweeted that he would have to be crawling and unable to get up to come off the field. Eagles’ corner Asante Samuel wrote that the Bears players should look at Cutler “sideways” from now on.

Fans have been even more demonstrative with their criticism. One group decided to burn his jersey after the game and I’m sure there were many others to curse his name and trash his memorabilia as well. If I were Cutler, I’d be looking up vacation spots right about now. (I hear South Dakota is nice this time of year.)

But is everyone being rational with his or her criticism? After all, he has only missed one start in his career and that came earlier this season when he suffered a concussion. Team trainers did check him out at halftime and he did try to go back into the game in the third quarter. He also has a torn MCL, so clearly he wasn’t faking the injury unless the Bears made up the results of his MRI (which is a stretch, but I also wouldn’t put anything past teams these days).

Did he do everything he could to try to get back into the game? It certainly didn’t look like it, which is why people are irate. If I were a Bears fan, I’d probably be fuming, too. This was the biggest game of the season and it looked like Cutler would rather be playing Mrs. Pac-Man than fighting beside his teammates. We want our quarterbacks to have guts, heart and determination. If they’re hurt, they better be withering in pain and bleeding from the ears before they come out of a conference championship game. And even then, they better be crawling around the sidelines while screaming to go back in.

Cutler did none of that, which is where the criticism comes in. But are fans just upset because their team lost and are looking for an easy target? And are players both past and present railing on him because they just don’t like Cutler as a person? Would a quarterback who wasn’t such a punk be given the benefit of the doubt in the same situation?

I wouldn’t be surprised if the criticism of Cutler was more about the stakes of the game and his personality than about his toughness. If you notice, his teammates have vehemently defended him and none of the players who are criticizing him play in the NFC North. I’d like to believe that no player would ever want to leave a playoff game when he still had something left to give.

But maybe the criticism of Cutler is just. Maybe he is a gutless wonder who should be called out. After all, a MCL tear isn’t an ACL tear. The injury can certainly affect a quarterback’s mobility and whether or not he can plant his foot, but I’m sure many players have gutted out this specific injury before.

Either way, this situation is now burned into people’s memories so he’ll have to deal with future questioning. Hopefully for his sake, he has enough toughness to prove doubters wrong.

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