Sports Sunday: Cutler’s heart, not talent, is question

Photo from Jonthan Daniel/Getty Images.

Somewhere, Josh McDaniels is smiling.

Two years ago, McDaniels waltzed into Denver and told Jay Cutler, who many fans were anointing the next John Elway, that he’d rather have Matt Cassel. Denver fans cursed, the players scratched their heads and Cutler demanded a trade. Now two years later, I think most Bears fans wouldn’t mind seeing him traded again.

A player like Cutler is an anomaly. He’ll make the great play, can throw the ball 50 yards on a dime, but he never quite seems to have his head fully in the game. He’s uber talented; may have the best raw skills of anyone at the position. But the part about Cutler that will leave you shaking your head is that when the going gets tough, sometimes he flat out quits.

He quit on his team Sunday. At least that’s what a lot of people were saying on Twitter, including his fellow NFL players. And he did it in the NFC Championship game. Against the Bears most-hated rival. With a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Only down 14 points. Playing at home. In a situation every kid who ever picks up a football dreams about. Need I say more?

I’m sure he hurt his knee and I’m sure the pain was intense, especially on a day where the temperatures never got out of the teens and the players’ breath was visible throughout the entire game on HD and SD cable. But unless we find out he tore an ACL come Monday, Cutler is going to have a lot of questions to answer. Why didn’t he at least try and go back in? Why wouldn’t he look at the charts and pictures with Caleb Heine as the game was winding down? Why does he play so well against inferior opponents like Seattle, but back down because of what has to be called fear when he goes up against a physical team that gets in his face?

Cutler has a history of boneheaded plays in big-game situations — forced passes and red zone interceptions that could only be chalked up to an ego bigger than the holes he was trying to fit the ball through. During the 2008 season, he led Denver into the red zone against Buffalo, only to get picked off. A win would have sealed the division for the Broncos. Then when Denver had to beat San Diego to win the AFC West in the last game of the season, he threw numerous red zone interceptions and spent more time jawing with Philip Rivers than trying to figure out why what he was doing wasn’t helping his team.

Despite his past and some similar issues he had last year in Chicago, it seemed Cutler was sort of coming into his own under Mike Martz’s system this season. I even texted my friend Jason, a huge Bears fan, after last week’s Chicago win pontificating about how much I’d like to see Cutler in a Denver uniform again. But after today’s game, I take that back.

I don’t know what needs to happen from here. Maybe Cutler needs to watch Rocky about 50 times over the offseason. Maybe he needs to talk to the guy who played on the other side of the ball today — Aaron Rodgers is all grit and determination — or maybe he needs to train with Byron Leftwich. Remember, the dude led a game-winning TD drive in college on one leg where his linemen carried him down the field between plays.

The NFL has changed. It doesn’t matter as much anymore if you can gunsling the ball all over the field and have all the talent in the world in your right arm and shoulder. If you can’t hang in there against the likes of a Ray Lewis, James Harrison or Clay Matthews, you can’t win big in this league. Aaron Rodgers got smoked in the mouth by a Julius Peppers helmet-to-helmet hit in the second half of the game. And he didn’t go anywhere near his warm parka. Dude went back to the huddle and led his team to the Super Bowl.

The Packers and Bears used to play in what was referred to as the “black and blue” division before realignment. Well, the NFL is quickly becoming the black and blue league. In the offseason, Cutler is going to have to decide if he’s ready to play with the heart his defensive teammates showed all afternoon, or if he only wants to stand in the pocket when it looks pretty.

Josh McDaniels was an awful coach during his two years in Denver. Set the franchise back several years. But more and more, it looks like he was right about Jay Cutler. And I think I know now why McD drafted Tim Tebow. The guy doesn’t have a stellar throwing motion and there are definitely questions about if his game will transition to the NFL. But Denver will never have to worry that his heart isn’t in it. The same can’t be said for No. 6 in Chicago.

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JamieFavreau's Avatar moderator
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This is partly a reason why I am NOT a NFL fan. Seriously, Steve Yzerman has played on one knee and kept going back into the situation. You don't win Championships by sitting on the sideline when things go badly. How frustrating.

I know we tend to expect athletes to be super human and NOT like everyday Joe's and all. But if you have a chance to have a ticket to the Super Bowl and this is what you have played all your life for. You would think you would want it more.

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It will be very interesting to hear later today if he tore something in his knee or not. EIther way, he did not win any fans by staring off into space on the sidelines and not encouraging his teammates or helping the backup QBs by sharing what he was seeing the Green Bay defense do. If the MRI comes back just a sprain, then he will have a lot of explaining to do. If he really tore something, then I guess us skeptics need to apologize. Although my response would be: Either way, why was he so "out of the game" once he went to the sidelines?


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