Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who was knocked out of January’s NFC Championship Game with a knee injury, told the Chicago Sun-Times Friday that he was annoyed by the storm of criticism he received from people who suggested he should have played through the pain.
Cutler spoke publicly for the first time since the 21-14 loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers.
"I was gone, and I stayed away from it all," Cutler said. "But I can’t say it didn’t bother me that people questioned my toughness and desire to play. I think I’ve been through a lot here in Chicago, and I would have loved to play."
Cutler stressed the most important thing to him was that his teammates never questioned his desire to be on the field and "had his back" during the tough time.
"Those are the guys you are with a lot of the time," he said, "and those guys didn’t flinch. I’ve got to thank them for that."
Fellow NFL players were not so forgiving though.
Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel tweeted at the time, "If he was my teammate I would be looking at him sideways." Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew tweeted, "All I’m saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee … I played the whole season on one."
Cutler said that Samuels, Jones-Drew, and others who questioned his toughness "can think what they want."
The Bears made a fourth quarter comeback under third-string QB Caleb Hanie, but their late drive for a tying touchdown ended with a fourth-down interception, sending the archrival Packers to the Super Bowl.
Cutler, who was diagnosed with a Grade II tear of the medial collateral ligament, said he has not tested his left knee yet but said it is the type of injury that "heals on its own."
The 27-year-old former Vanderbilt star led the Bears to the NFC North division title with an 11-5 record last season, throwing for 3,274 yards, 23 touchdowns and 16 interceptions.