It was a storm of vitriol fired at Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler after an injury knocked him out of last year's NFC Championship. League peers, fans and analysts all piled on, some questioning his pain tolerance, other his character. Intense scrutiny was given to his sideline demeanor after the injury, which most perceived as disconnected and uncaring. Some flat out called him a quitter.
Earlier in the 2010 season, ESPN's Rick Reilly went so far as to say Cutler is "as popular as gout." It's safe to say no NFL player with as spotless an off-the-field record, and who contributes as much of his time to charity, has been the subject of such wrath from the collective NFL community.
He's a polarizing figure who doesn't provide any room for indifference: you either love him or hate him. Which is why, just minutes after an MCL sprain forced him to sit out the second half of the championship game, Cutler was assaulted with a barrage of Twitter posts from current and former NFL players.
A few examples:
"If my knee was hurt or acl/mcl/pcl sprain, I would not be standing up on the sideline. #jaycutler" –Kirk Morrison
And last, but definitely not least:
Yet one NFL player, who has dealt with similar criticism his entire career, recently came to Cutler's defense. Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb – who has had to defend himself against numerous teammates, right-wing radio hosts and the NAACP, to name just a few – recently spoke on ESPN 1000's "Waddle and Silvy Show."
QB Jay Cutler & QB Donovan McNabb
"I went through it pretty much myself last year," McNabb said. "The whole deal about it is just let them know, hey you have to just brush it off and understand that you can play this game and play it at a high level."
McNabb believes Cutler's on-field demeanor is the source of much of the condemnation.
"You're going to have some tough times," he said. "Don't put your head down because your teammates see that. Once your teammates recognize that, they feel like you're not into it anymore.
"Do whatever you have to do: spend time after practice, if it's communicating with the guys, spending time watching extra film, whatever it may be. Put that extra time in because once things change, then you'll begin to get your confidence back and play the way you are capable of playing. He played great last year."
Yet not all of the Bears-related shots have been leveled at Cutler. Linebacker Brian Urlacher was the recent recipient of some unprovoked disrespect by Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Dhani Jones. When asked why Urlacher was left of Jones' list of the top 10 linebackers in the league, Jones responded: "When was the last time Urlacher got off a block?"
Former two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Ray Lewis, weighed in on the issue.
"To me, you're talking about Urlacher, somebody that's been consistent his whole career," Lewis told NBC Chicago at the recent Bo Jackson Charity Golf Tournament. "So to speak down about him, and say he's not one of the top [linebackers], I don't know if that's true.
"I look at the guy at the very top level of respect in how he plays the game. And the leader[ship] side of who he is, outside of everything else, is what truly makes Brian Urlacher, Brian Urlacher."
Like McNabb with Cutler, Lewis feels the best way to deal with the criticism is to prove the detractors wrong by performing on the field.
"The bottom line is: do what you do," he said. "Come back and do what you do. Wherever they rate you at, prove them wrong. "
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Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport com To read him every day, visit BearReport com and become a Chicago Bears insider