Mark Sanchez wipes a booger on Mark Brunell [video]

You can see Brunell look down and say, “Did you just wipe…”

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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.

Mendenhall powers the Steelers back to the Super Bowl

Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall (L) embraces New York Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez (R) after the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the New York Jets 24-19 in the AFC Championship game at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA, 23 January 2011. The Steelers will go on to face the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV on 06 February 2011 in Arlington, Texas. EPA/JUSTIN LANE fotoglif933714

Here are five quick-hit observations on the Steelers’ 24-19 win over the Jets in the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.

1. Mendenhall ran like he was mad at the ground.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen Rashard Mendenhall run with more determination than he did Sunday night. He shredded the Jets for 95 rushing yards in the first half and finished with 121 yards on 27 carries and one touchdown. He also caught two passes for 32 yards and would have scored on one of those receptions had he stayed on his feet. He now has three touchdowns this postseason and has provided the Steelers’ offense with balance. Against the Jets, he rarely went down on first contact and he flashed terrific speed on a 35-yard jaunt in the first half. No running back has ever rushed for more yards against the Jets since Rex Ryan took over as head coach in 2009. Mendenhall set the tone for Pittsburgh’s win.

2. Bruce Arians shows some stones.
Pittsburgh fans have had a roller coaster relationship with offensive coordinator Bruce Arians over the years, but they had to have loved his gutsy 3rd and 6 pass call with less than two minutes remaining. How many times do teams run the ball in that situation, get stopped, punt and then have to rely on their defense to close out the game? Arians knows he has a great defense so if the clock is stopped because of an incompletion, so what? But thanks to Ben Roethlisberger’s 14-yard competition to Antonio Brown (how big has this kid been the last two weeks?), the Steelers were able to pick up a first down and run the rest of the clock out. They didn’t even give the Jets an opportunity to win. Great call.

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Packers beat offensively challenged Bears, become second No. 6 seed to make Super Bowl

Green Bay Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji (Left-Center) celebrates with teammates after intercepting and scoring a touchdown against the Chicago Bears during the fourth quarter of their NFC Championship game at Soldier Field in Chicago, Illinois, USA 23 January 2011. The Packers defeated the Bears 21-14 and will play the AFC Champion in Super Bowl XLV 06 February in Dallas, Texas, USA. EPA/JOHN G. MABANGLO fotoglif933236

Here are five quick-hit thoughts about the Packers’ 21-14 win over the Bears in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game.

1. The Packers’ improbable run continues.
Let’s take a moment to appreciate what the 2010 Green Bay Packers have been able to do. They entered the season as legitimate Super Bowl contenders, only to see their hopes seemingly wash away because of injuries. Needing two wins in the final two weeks just to qualify for the postseason, they crushed the Giants and edged out the Bears to clinch the No. 6 seed in the NFC. Against long odds, the Packers then go on the road and knock off the Eagles, the No. 1-seeded Falcons and the No. 2-seeded Bears to reach the Super Bowl. It’s hard enough to win on the road, nevertheless do so in the postseason when home field advantage is so paramount. The Packers are red-hot and match up well with either the Jets or Steelers.

2. Capers deserves a lot of praise for the play of his defense.
Rex Ryan has earned a lot of attention this postseason for his defensive game plans, but Dom Capers deserves some of the spotlight after what Green Bay did on Sunday. His defense is the main reason the Packers won today – not Aaron Rodgers. The Bears made things interesting in the fourth quarter and the Packers did catch a break when Jay Cutler left the game with a knee injury, but let’s not take anything away from Capers’ game plan. The Bears could do nothing offensively for the first three quarters and their offensive line couldn’t stop Green Bay’s pass rush. Matt Forte had a couple of nice runs and Caleb Hanie made some clutch throws in the fourth quarter but again, domination was on display. The Packers held the Bears to 218 passing yards and 83 rushing, all while forcing three turnovers. On a day when Rodgers wasn’t at his best, the Packers needed a strong defensive effort and that’s exactly what they got.

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