By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Jay Cutler was not coming out of that game.
He could have had a broken bone sticking out of his leg, a missing finger, poison-tipped arrows stuck in his back, or half his face chewed off by coyotes, and he was playing.
What happened once in front of the country’s TVs and in the real-time Twitter tinderbox was not going to happen again. Not as long as he could walk and breathe. A myth needed to be put down on the same big stage on which it came to life.
Cutler’s poorly-managed exit from the NFC title game two years ago created a phony national narrative that was allowed to take hold by both the Bears’ obtuse, ham-fisted messaging and Cutler’s own combination of indifference and misanthropy. He didn’t care that anybody thought he wussed out after spraining his knee, and his bosses were not motivated to cover for him. At least until anybody realized how much damage had been done.
As of press time, the only official description of the injury after Ndamukong Suh body-slammed him in the second quarter is “bruised ribs,” which could mean anything from a team that would describe a shredded knee as a “strain,” a lacerated kidney as “back spasms,” and decapitation as “ennui.”
It’s possible that Cutler’s head whipping into the ground was enough to cause another in a hazily-accounted list of concussions going back to high school, and that could change the way we talk about this. But we’ll agree to trust that they wouldn’t be that reckless (would they?), and that reputable doctors determined that it was something else, and that no further damage could be done by allowing him to continue.
The wounds to his reputation caused by fans, pundits and fellow players are still fresh enough from January of 2011, and any effort to counter the misinformation was slow, uncoordinated and weak. Cutler has never seemed willing to engage the fight to prove that he indeed possesses football’s most sacred trait, preferring that his play speak for itself.
Monday night, it did.
It had been easy for network broadcasts to seize on the storyline, cynically fanning the flames of doubt about Cutler’s toughness and legitimizing the silliness — dragging out half-literate tweets from players and purported analysts too many drinks into their respective evenings that day — while then trying to take the high road and dismissing it, after they already pulled the pin on the dramatic grenade.
Let this put it away for good, please. Cutler played hurt, and played hard.
It was clear from his labored deep breaths and inconsistent velocity and accuracy that he was not himself after halftime. Yet he was out there for the final victory-formation kneel-down to seal a solid win over an undisciplined, overmatched divisional opponent, having managed his team through a defensive slog that let the Lions do everything they could to play into Lovie Smith’s tightly-spun spiderweb.
Jay Cutler is a fair target for all kinds of criticism. He may be insouciant, irascible, and generally off-putting in his aloofness. He’ll never politic for your attachment, because that’s not in his nature. You don’t have to like him. I’m pretty sure I don’t.
But any stubbornly-remaining toughness garbage ends here, and it ends now.