UPDATED: 1/24/2011, 3:10 p.m.

CHICAGO (CBS) — Chicago Bears’ quarterback Jay Cutler sprained a knee ligament in the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers, Bears Coach Lovie Smith confirmed Monday.  

Sean Jensen, of the Chicago Sun-Times, first reported on his Twitter account that Cutler tore the medial collateral ligament (MCL) on his left knee. Jensen later confirmed that Cutler suffered a Grade II sprain of his MCL, an injury that typically takes 3-4 weeks to heal.

Smith said that Cutler suffered a sprain to his MCL. A sprain usually means that the ligament was torn slightly, but not severely. He said that if the Bears made the Super Bowl, Cutler’s status would have been questionable.

Smith also took aim at critics who questioned Cutler’s toughness or ability to play in the game. Smith said it was the decision of the coaches and training staff to pull the quarterback from the biggest game of his career so far.

“If you’re going to attack somebody, you should be attacking me as the head football coach,” Smith said. “He wanted to go back in.”

Depending on the severity of the tear, it takes up to six weeks for a MCL injury to heal–often less. The initial treatment focuses on reducing the pain and inflammation in the knee.

Typically, the injury is treated with ice, anti-inflammatory medication and stabilizing the joint with a brace. In most cases, surgery is not needed and prospects for a complete recovery are excellent.

During the second half of the game, the Internet and Twitter were abuzz with current and former NFL players having knee-jerk reactions to Cutler’s injury. Linebacker Brian Urlacher and Coach Lovie Smith quickly came to Cutler’s defense.

“Jay was hurt. I don’t question his toughness, he’s tough as hell,” Urlacher said. “He’s one of the toughest players on our football team. He doesn’t complain when he gets hit. He goes out there and plays every Sunday, he practices every single day, so no we don’t question his toughness.”

There were more than a few comments on Twitter when it became clear Cutler would not be back.

“If I’m on chicago team jay cutler has to wait till me and the team shower get dressed and leave before he comes in the locker room!” Arizona Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett tweeted.

“Folks i never question a players injury but i do question a players heart,” wrote Deion Sanders, former cornerback and current NFL analyst.

According to locker room reports, Cutler became emotional, with tears welling up in his eyes, when he was told of the criticism.

Bears coach Lovie Smith grew testy after being asked about Cutler’s injury.

“He hurt his knee and he was out, all right?” Smith said. “There’s nothing else for me to tell you on that. I don’t know exactly when it happened, he couldn’t go and that was that.”

Added Urlacher: “Nothing like jealous people at home watching. Players around the league you said, right? Yeah, I love jealous people when they are watching our game on TV while their season is over.”

(TM and © Copyright 2011 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS Radio and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2010 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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