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).

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Former and current NFL players blast Jay Cutler via Twitter

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler (6) walks off the field after failing to get a first down against the Green Bay Packers during the third quarter of the NFL NFC Championship football game in Chicago, January 23, 2011. REUTERS/Mike Segar (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

Apparently Jay Cutler is about as popular as a rectal exam when it comes to both former and current NFL players.

After leaving the NFC Championship Game early in the third quarter on Sunday, Cutler is being called out for not playing on a hurt knee. Everyone from Maurice Jones Drew to former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Derrick Brooks took to Twitter to blast the Chicago signal caller for his perceived lack of toughness.

From NFL Fanhouse:

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

“FOX HAVEN’T SHOWED ANY TRAINERS LOOKING AT CUTLER, UMMM,” tweeted Derrick Brooks, a former NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

The rest of us can only make educated guesses. Back to Twitter, this time from Arizona’s Darnell 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!”

I’m willing to give Cutler the benefit of the doubt for now. If the guy was hurt and couldn’t play, then he was hurt and couldn’t play. He has taken quite a beating the past two years and his teammates aren’t questioning his toughness, so why should fans at home? He showed a lot of guts last week on his first touchdown run against the Seahawks last weekend and he even had a run against the Packers on Sunday that showed some toughness.

That said, I honestly don’t blame anyone for calling him out. He flat out looked disinterested during the second half and if the MRI that he’s scheduled for on Monday comes back negative, then he won’t have a leg to stand on when it comes to everyone’s criticism of his toughness. The image of Kellen Winslow being helped off the field by two teammates in “The Epic in Miami” is forever burned into our memory. So when a guy leaves a championship game and doesn’t have a torn knee, a concussion or internal bleeding, we’re going to question whether or not he has any stones.

Again, I’m willing to give Cutler the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe that a million dollar athlete wouldn’t voluntarily leave a game when a chance to play in the Super Bowl is on the line. I also don’t think it’s wise to draw conclusions based on assumptions. Some are only assuming that Cutler was healthy enough to play when the only person that knows whether or not he could have stayed in is Jay Cutler.

But for Cutler’s sake, I’m hoping his MCL is torn because if it isn’t, his reputation will suffer much greater damage than his knee ever will.

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