Nonsportsmanlike Conduct! is a sports blog, but don't hold that against it; it's the sports blog for people who don't like sports blog.Â This appeared there first.
And by "expert," I mean my 19-year-old, who is currently a business student at MATC (she's planning on opening a bakery someday), and who goes by the name "Middle" on these blogs.
Middle hurt her knee a couple years ago trying out for the basketball team, and as I listened to person after person accuse Cutler of faking, or say he wasn't faking, I decided to consult with Middle, via this exchange of text messages which were definitely not sent while I was driving home from work yesterday:
Me: Didn't you tear your MCL?
Middle: ACL & MCL.
Me: Could you have played quarterback after you hurt it?
Middle: Not at all.
Me: Why not?
Middle: Cuz it hurt.
Me: Could you have run, if you didn't mind the pain? Or walk up stairs?
Middle: Stairs, yes. Run, no.
And that settles that: Jay Cutler's torn MCL (assuming it's torn for real, but why would the Bears' medical staff lie for him?) clearly was enough to keep him from finishing the NFC championship; if a 19-year-old future baker couldn't have QB'd the Bears, why would we expect Cutler to do it?
In all seriousness, the only reason people are down on Cutler is because he was behind, and not playing well, when he pulled himself/was pulled from the game. If Cutler had been playing well, but was behind, nobody would be criticizing him -- especially not Maurice Jones-Drew, who's really not somebody who should be talking about playing through pain. If Cutler had been playing badly, but the Bears had been leading, nobody would criticize him, either.
It's the combination of being behind/playing badly that leads people to assume Cutler didn't want to go back out and play -- people assuming that Cutler just didn't want to be blamed for the loss or his bad play and so he blamed it on an injury. I suspect that's the truth because that's what I thought.
I watched the game with Middle and The Boy and Oldest, and when I saw that Cutler wasn't going back in, I said "I wonder if he pulled himself out because he's playing so badly." I was serious, too -- and I won't claim I was just joking, like Mo-Jo. And I wouldn't have thought that if Cutler had been, say, 15 for 17 with two touchdowns at that point. And I'm pretty sure nobody else would've thought that, either.
So it's not really a question of whether Cutler should, or should not, have gone back out to play. It's more a question of why we all assume he'd just decided to take off in the most important game of his career; so far as I know, Cutler's had plenty of bad games, but hasn't always pulled himself out of them (for any reason) before this. And I know Cutler's missed games due to injury, but nobody accused him, then, of deciding to just quit on his team.
So why now? Is it because the game was so important? Is that why everyone says (as Mike Ditka did) that they would've played until dragged off the field?
Because think about this: if the game is so important, shouldn't Cutler have decided not to play with an injury that might make him less effective than his backup? Isn't that the real question, Trent Dilfer and Jones-Drew and you others? Whether he thought he could play well enough to help the team? Anyone can drag themselves onto the field and toss the ball around -- but team players don't engage in self-aggrandizing behavior, staying in the game when they're clearly not as effective as they could be. So the people who are shouting "They'd have to drag me off the field" not only are liars, but also might be hurting their team if they put themselves through that.
Consider Aaron Rodgers. (Here's the promised gratuitous attack!) I pointed out to The Boy, during the game, that The Anointed & Bearded One wasn't throwing all that accurately following his touchdown scramble during which he was knocked out of bounds. And it turns out I was right; Rodgers' shoulder was injured on the play.
Now look at the record. On the first drive, Rodgers completed passes of 22, 26, 22, and 6 yards before the run-in. On the next drive, Rodgers completed a short pass before throwing 3 incompletions. Rodgers completed a 21-yard pass on the drive after that, and didn't throw again that drive.
In the 2nd quarter, Rodgers completed four passes, of 16, 15, 9 and 9 yards. He threw incomplete a few times, and tossed that terrible interception to Urlacher. And so on; Rodgers finished 17 for 30 with a miserable passer rating of 55.4 -- completing only 56% of his passes for no touchdowns, a rating lower than Chicago's Caleb Hanie managed.
Nobody's saying Rodgers should have pulled himself out of the game -- but it seems obvious to me that it should have been considered, given that Rodgers' accuracy looked like it suffered after he took the hit diving into the end zone. But Rodgers stayed in the game, no doubt getting credit for his toughness, and because the Packers won (in spite of Rodgers' play, not because of it), nobody's questioning him.
While in this case many people (like me) jumped on the anti-Cutler bandwagon because we assumed that being behind, and not playing well, gave him motivation to simply quit, the assumption that we made -- that Cutler would quit on the most important game of his career -- was made because we didn't like Cutler in the first place.
Most of people's opinions about someone's actions come from what they think about the person. When Brett Favre has a miserable season and ends up injured and sitting out the final games, people say "He shouldn't have come back," because they didn't want him to -- and when he plays through injuries people like Gregg Easterbrook say he hurts his team by doing so and make ridiculous comments like starting Tarvaris Jackson would be better for the Vikings. Or, put another way, when Favre throws an interception to (effectively) end the Vikings' playoff run last year, people (because they don't like Favre) say that's proof he's no good -- but when Dog Killer Mike Vick thrown an interception to end the Eagles' playoff run this year, people (because they do like Vick) say that just shows what a competitor he is.
And when Jay Cutler, who apparently is not well liked, pulls himself out of the game because he's injured, people don't want to say "Boy, that must have been a tough thing to do, not playing in the biggest game of his career," they say he must be wimping out. But when A-Rodg, who people do like, plays (poorly) through a shoulder injury, we commend him on his toughness and nobody says "He should've sat down if he couldn't throw the ball right."
You'd expect that from fans; fans are idiots. I'd expect more from sportscasters and talk radio hosts and others, but apparently I'm setting my standards a little high.
That is, to be more specific, apparently, expecting sportscasters to not let personal feelings get in the way, and to also analyze whether staying in a game when one is injured is a good idea if the player can't perform at top level, is setting my standards a little high.