Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler looks down after being hit while throwing a pass during the first half of the NFC Championship NFL football game against the Green Bay Packers Sunday, Jan. 23, 2011, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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Updated: April 30, 2011 4:46AM
Jay Cutler’s medial collateral ligament is torn, and his reputation is dangling by sinew.
What should be most sobering to the Bears quarterback isn’t his injured left knee or the 31.8 passer rating he posted before exiting the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Soldier Field.
Most troubling is that the Jay Cutler Fan Club is meeting in the bathroom of a 747, for which he has himself to blame.
The backlash over his leaving the Bears’ 21-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers after the first series of the third quarter isn’t so much an indictment of the media, which has mostly only reported what his peers have written on their Twitter accounts, or the evils of social networking.
As it turns out, Denver Broncos fans and ESPN columnist Rick Reilly aren’t the only people willing to be critical of Cutler. Many current and former players don’t care for him, either, or they wouldn’t have been questioning his toughness, heart and character on television and in other public forums during his darkest hour.
This is what happens to people who don’t care what people think of them. If Cutler wonders what he can gain from portraying a positive public image, here’s his answer: The benefit of the doubt.
“Certain people have an aura about them, right, wrong or indifferent,” Jerry Angelo said. “We’re in the perception business. I don’t create perceptions. You create perceptions.”
The Bears general manager was referring to the media, which has become a catch-all for blame in situations such as these, usually with good reason. In this case, however, the negativity swirling around Cutler has nothing to do with the toughness he has displayed during his two seasons with the Bears or the injury he suffered late in the first half of a devastating loss.
Those who don’t care what people think of them shouldn’t be surprised to learn people don’t think much of them. Nobody makes it his or her goal to become unlovable, but that’s what Cutler has done. How can you relate to someone who reveals nothing about himself? How can you care about someone who lets nobody know him?
The Bears have too much invested in Cutler for this not to work out. The time for an intervention is now. There are ways Cutler can rehabilitate his game and remake his image.
The first order of business? Turn your hat around, Jay. You’re not 17 anymore. Grow up, for goodness sakes. The job of a franchise quarterback encompasses more than just slinging it around on Sundays. Like it or not, your job description includes being the face and voice of the franchise. The face shouldn’t include rolling eyes. The voice shouldn’t carry a condescending tone.
If you quit treating people like insects, you might buy yourself some goodwill down the road.
The NFL’s greatest quarterbacks are fundamentally sound. It’s not easy to focus on fundamentals when you’re forced to run around as if your feet were on fire, granted, but you’ll be more accurate and throw fewer interceptions if you commit to not throwing off your back foot at least half the time.
“You can’t go through a lifetime with those kinds of habits and fix them in one season,” offensive coordinator Mike Martz said last week.
He’s right. But it’s going to take a desire on Cutler’s part to correct the fundamental flaws that will allow him to take the next step in his career.
It’s not all Cutler’s fault. We all know the mistakes the Bears made while assembling their offensive line. Nothing against the players, by the way. All things considered, the group made greater strides than anybody could have reasonably expected. To place the franchise’s greatest asset behind such a makeshift line was a huge miscalculation for which Cutler can’t be blamed.
There are other factors. The offensive pieces have never fit together, regardless of whom was at quarterback, which Angelo acknowledged.
“We feel good about the foundation that’s in place,” he said. “Obviously, we have to continue to get better. There’s probably going to be a few new faces in there somewhere, better competition, all of it to make us better.”
Angelo was right when he talked about perceptions. It might not have been fair, but when Cutler was standing on the sideline, the perception was that the game wasn’t as important to him as it was to Bears fans who would’ve done anything for the chance to beat the Packers. It was an incorrect perception, but one he helped create.
He can go one of two places from here. He can make some much-needed changes, or he can become the J.D. Salinger of NFL quarterbacks, consequences be damned.
His knee will heal by itself. The rest is up to him.