From top to bottom, members of the Chicago Bears' organization on Monday defended quarterback Jay Cutler's toughness and fired back at NFL players who criticized him for not finishing Sunday's game with a sprained MCL in his left knee.
Irate Bears general manager Jerry Angelo had pointed comments for Kerry Rhodes, Maurice Jones-Drew and Darnell Dockett, who ripped Cutler on Twitter.
"I think it's crap," Angelo said. "I thought they were a union. If that's the way they unionize themselves, they've got bigger issues than the one that they have with the owners [over the absence of a collective bargaining agreement for next season]. I'm very disappointed in that. That, to me, is dirty pool. People are allowed to say what they want to say, but that doesn't mean it's right and it's certainly not grounded. We wouldn't have been where we're at without him, and I want that to be made clear. We stand by him."
Bears coach Lovie Smith said the decision to replace Cutler with backup Todd Collins and then No. 3 Caleb Hanie was one made by the team's coaching and medical staffs. He said Cutler wanted to keep playing, and Smith has been surprised at the backlash against his quarterback.
"I haven't seen it before," Smith said. "It seems like if you're in that fraternity, you would be stepping up for your fellow man, especially when you don't know. Jay didn't take himself out of the game. If you're going to attack somebody, you should be attacking me. As the head football coach and [with] our medical staff, we're the ones [who made the decision]. He wanted to go back in. He was injured and went back in in the second half. So I see it the as complete opposite of how it's being portrayed. That's the last thing we should have to defend, is Jay Cutler's toughness."
For the sake of comparison, Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward, widely considered one of the toughest players in the league, suffered a "slightly sprained" right MCL two years ago in the first half of the AFC Championship Game and was unable to play in the second half. He was able to participate in the Super Bowl two weeks later only after undergoing PRP (platelet rich plasma) therapy, which was a cutting-edge procedure at the time.
Smith said that Cutler would be listed as questionable for the Super Bowl if the Bears had won Sunday.
Smith also said Bears players would provide a more accurate evaluation of Cutler's character and toughness than those players who have taken to social networks to criticize.
"This is not on Jay," Smith said. "It's on those people who attacked him. If you want to know about Jay Cutler's toughness, go to our players and ask them."
Cutler's teammates have been unanimous in their support of him and his toughness. They, too, were angered by what they considered cheap shots from opponents who are ignorant of the situation and of Cutler's character.
Jones-Drew sat out the last two games this season with a knee injury, while his Jacksonville team was fading down the stretch and not qualifying for the playoffs. He has played in a total of two postseason games with 48 yards on 14 rushes for a 3.4-yard average.
"It's insane," Bears tight end Greg Olsen said. "Anyone who's ever watched us, that would probably be the last thing anyone's ever questioned. Jay's taken hits, he doesn't slide and he runs almost to the point where we have to tell him, 'Hey, you're still the quarterback. We need you back there, so don't be taking chances.' That's just his mentality. He's a football player, and for guys, especially players around the league to take those shots at him, I just think is ridiculous. You're going to take a shot at a quarterback who's leading his team in the NFC title game [from] guys who aren't even in the playoffs, haven't made the playoffs in their whole career, and they're going to question him?"
NOTES AND QUOTES
Angelo said signing Smith to a contract extension is a priority, but he could not offer a timetable for a new agreement. Smith's contract is up after next season, but Angelo does not foresee going into the 2011 season without a new deal in place.
"We very much want to extend Lovie [for] the job that he's done and his staff," Angelo said Monday at Halas Hall. "So our focus, our intent is to extend Lovie. "We wanted to wait until the season's over. The season is officially over for us, and that will be part of the business at hand in these next several weeks."
Angelo did not say how long of an extension Smith would be offered.
"We're fine. We'll get into that," Angelo said. "Right now, the first thing I did when I got up this morning – it was hard to sleep last night, as well it should be – but that [a contract extension for Smith] was not on my mind. We have a number of things on the agenda, and when there's something to announce, we'll announce it. It's that simple."
In 2007, Smith was scheduled to make $1.45 million on his original contract, a year after he was the lowest paid coach in the league at $1.35 million in '06 but took the Bears to the Super Bowl. But in March of '07, Smith signed a four-year, $22 million extension, which paid him $2 million more in '07. ...
Middle linebacker Brian Urlacher was all over the field Sunday, leading all players with 10 tackles, getting the Bears' only sack, plus another tackle for loss and an interception with a 39-yard return.
It appeared for a moment that he might go the distance, but he was tripped up by Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers at the Bears' 45-yard line.
"He threw it at me," Urlacher said of the pick. "I don't know if he didn't see me or what, but he threw it at me and tackled me. That's what I saw."
Urlacher was disappointed in the play of the defense in the first half, when it allowed 252 total yards, but proud of the way it fought back, allowing just 104 total yards after halftime.
"Just too many mistakes," Urlacher said. "Give them all the credit. They made us make the mistakes. They played better than we did. The second half, we just hunkered down. We got guys coming off blocks, we got takeaways, we got pressure on [Rodgers] and we just played like we play." ...
Trailing 14-0 in the second quarter and at the Packers' 31-yard line, the Bears, for the second time, passed on what appeared to be a makeable field goal, which would have been from 49 yards away. They punted instead, as fans booed loudly.
Earlier, they disdained what would have been a 52-yard field-goal attempt.
"That was out of field goal range for us," Smith said of the second, shorter opportunity. "We had to be at about the 27 going in that direction (south)."
The first kick would have been toward the south end zone.
"The wind was blowing in my face," kicker Robbie Gould said of the first situation. "It could have gone either way. They made a decision to punt it, which I thought was a good decision considering we've done a great job of putting them down inside the 5 and try to create a little more momentum for our defense and maybe create a turnover."
Gould said he had made kicks from that distance in pregame.
"But you've got to play the percentages," he said. "I think it was a good call. I really do."
The first time. Brad Maynard punted the ball out of bounds at the Packers' 10-yard line. The second time was a touchback, but Corey Graham almost downed it at the 1-yard line.
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