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Monday, January 24, 2011

Defending Jay Cutler

It was long ago, but it seemed like only yesterday. Andy Reid's Eagles were a hot team, and they hosted Tampa Bay in the NFC Championship Game. They were favored, but they lost the game. One of the main reasons was that their starting strong safety, acquired to upgrade the position in the off-season, made a decision on his own that hurt the team.

You see, this player tore his hamstring earlier in the game, but he manned up, so to speak, toughed it out, and stayed in the game. Why? Probably because he thought that the decision demonstrated the size of his heart (if not his brain), probably because that's what he thought NFL players were supposed to do -- play through an injury and stay in the game to help the team. So he did. I don't think he conferred with his coaches, who actually had a good rookie on the bench who could have filled in reasonably well. Instead, he soldiered on.

With disastrous results.

I still have visions of an injured Blaine Bishop chasing relatively slow-footed receiver Joe Jurevicius down the sidelines, unable to stop the tall possession receiver en route to a long score that thrust a dagger into the Eagles' collective hearts. It was hard to fathom, how the supposedly fleeter-than-a-possession-receiver defensive back couldn't keep up with the possession receiver. Actually, the possession receiver left him in the dust. Only later was it revealed that Bishop had hurt himself but chosen to remain in the game. Ironically, a unilateral decision by a tough guy who thought that he was toughing it out actually hurt his team. It was hard to believe that a lame Bishop was preferable to Michael Lewis, a high-round draft pick and promising strong safety.

So, when Jay Cutler came out of yesterday's game he must have had a reason. Big-time quarterbacks don't opt for the sidelines, for the cloaks and the heated benches. They want in, and Cutler wanted in all season. He played well, and it's hard to believe that he didn't want to tough it out and play yesterday. Except for one thing -- Cutler's a pretty smart guy, and he must have thought that his back-ups could have done a better job on healthy legs than he could have done on a sprained MCL. Sure, the tweets abounded, as did the criticism on ESPN Radio this morning. I read or heard most of them. But what Cutler might have done was actually unselfish -- trying to help his team win by not playing hurt. What Bishop did was actually selfish, even if the strong safety must have thought that he was taking one for the team by playing hurt.

Yet, had it been known at the time that Bishop had decided to play hurt, he would have been lauded before the disastrous results ensued. Cutler had decided not to play hurt, and he was roundly criticized. Go figure.

Cutler's teammates closed ranks behind him yesterday, as they should have. Sure, you can argue that an injured Cutler couldn't have fared any worse than his back-ups, Todd Collins and Caleb Hanie, but Cutler obviously didn't think so. It could have been the case the he couldn't push off or that it hurt to step, as can be the case when one sprains his MCL. Only Jay Cutler knows for sure.

So, before you condemn Jay Cutler for not playing hurt, remember that there have been times when players who think they're unselfish by insisting upon playing hurt are actually hurting their teams. Jay Cutler probably thought he was being unselfish in making the call that he did, only to be called selfish. Go figure.


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