By TomE. Curran
On his final play of the 2010 NFC Championship game, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler walked up behind his center without a noticeable limp. He took the snapand dropped back on a third-and-4 play. He tried to hit Devin Hester on a little flip, hopping in the air as he released. The ball short-hopped Hester and Cutler trudged off the field and into the teeth of a great debate.Hurt or not hurt was the initial issue. But other topics have been swept into the cyclone now. Toughness, pain thresholds, the propriety of NFL players criticizing peers, the propriety of anyoneholding an opinion on whether a player is too hurt to play,the need to protect players . . . all are subjects that have been sucked up and swirled around in the mouth of the NFL watching world like so much gargle.
NFL players -- current and former -- lined up to skewer Cutler for "tapping out" (Deion Sanders' description) of a game so meaningful. The avalanche buried Cutler's reputation alive. And since then, the Bears organization -- coaches and teammates -- has been digging Cutler out. It was their decision to take Cutler out, they maintained. He wanted to go back in. "You never want a player to be on the field if he can't protect himself," said Chicago coach Lovie Smith.Let's hitthe pause button on the entire discussion. What did we see? Isn't that what matters instead of the words of an organization bent on saving its franchise quarterback's tattered psyche and torn reputation? When exactly did Cutler appear in danger of being unable to move nimbly enough to elude pressure? Which throw announced thata damaged Cutler was a lesser option than fossilized Todd Collins or untested Caleb Hanie?Itsure didn't look like the last throw. Nor did it look like Cutler couldn't protect himself on the preceding play, a handoff toMatt Forte on which Cutler turned and actually threw a pretty solid block on a Green Bay defender coming off the edge. Was it the pick that he threw with 37 seconds left in the half to Sam Shields, a ball that traveled 40 yards downfield with the flick of a wrist? On none of those plays did Jay Cutler look like a player who needed to be rescued. Now, if the Bears want to say he looked ineffective because he was favoring his knee, that's one thing. That's plausible. Even if he didn't appear to be limping much (or at all), the pick and the short-hop were weak throws. But so were several others before Cutler was sacked by Shields just after the two-minute warning, the play that likelycaused the MCL spraintearowie.What isn't plausible is the idea that Jay Cutler was in imminent danger on Sunday. And what we saw means a whole lot more than what everyone else says. Or it should. AS THE OCHO TURNSRecently, Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco cooed via Twitter about the possibility of being wedded football-wise to the Patriots. In a tweet directed to The Herald's Ian Rapoport, Ocho said "PePe and Bill EPIC." Rap, like a good Rap should, stomped over to Bengals coach Marvin Lewis down at the Senior Bowl on Monday and asked Lewis about Ocho (who still has a year left on his Bengals contract) playing for the Patriots. "Belichick's smarter than that,"Lewis said to Rapoport. Rap mentioned the Patriots' trading for Randy Moss in 2007. Lewis countered with a "How's that working out for them . . ." response. Meanwhile, Ocho was showing some leg to another would-be AFC East opportunity. On this week's episode of the T. Ocho Show, Ochocinco said of the New York Jets, "They will make it to this point deep in the playoffs every year. Id do anything to play for someone like Rex Ryan, or anyone who has that type of mentality.T.O., never one to merely nod and regard thoughtfully, said (in short), "Hey, me too!"How Belichick is "someone like Rex Ryan" is a mystery. But the simple fact that Ryan's approach serves as bait for "me-first" players like T.O. and Ocho certainly will make it interesting for Jets GM Mike Tannenbaum. "If you build it, they will come . . . "