When the Green Bay Packers return to the Windy City for the first time since last January's 21-14 NFC championship game victory over the Chicago Bears, Cutler will be a polarizing presence, if only because of the not-so-distant emotions the home team's quarterback is certain to evoke.
In a real-time world in which instantaneous public reaction is now the norm, legions of amateur orthopedists – some of them current and former NFL players – weighed in when Cutler left the game for good early in the third quarter.
Conclusions about his mental and physical toughness were drawn, as they've been in the past about so many of his peers, from Tony Romo(notes) to Michael Vick(notes) to Alex Smith. Each of those quarterbacks, incidentally, is expected to play this weekend despite having just suffered a potentially significant ailment: a fractured rib and punctured lung for Romo; concussions for Vick and Smith.
We've been conditioned to believe we can feel their pain, assess their respective situations and gauge their readiness for competition, but it's all an illusion. At a time when an age-old controversy over the faking of injuries to gain a competitive advantage has resurfaced, with the New York Giants seemingly employing the tactic in last Monday night's victory over the St. Louis Rams, the propensity of people to play doctor, judge and jury when athletes like Cutler go down is an equally disturbing sham.
As I wrote at the time and revisited this week with the NFL Network's Rich Eisen and Kara Henderson, Cutler's instant indictment carried a measure of absurdity. In the crowded press box, a local radio reporter, citing Internet and Twitter feedback, loudly intoned over the airwaves that fans were calling the quarterback "a word that rhymes with ‘wussy.' "
Defended after the game by teammates like uber-macho linebacker Brian Urlacher(notes), and later exonerated by the announcement that he'd suffered a torn medial collateral ligament, Cutler should be beyond such nonsense. However, if a similarly ambiguous injury situation occurs Sunday, or the next time he's in a playoff game – or ever – you can bet the stigma will resurface in rapid-fire, 140-character bursts.
I understand why people felt a compulsion to draw knee-jerk conclusions about Cutler's knee pain last January. The game had proceeded miserably for him thus far, and he had that aloof, bewildered expression on his face that reeked of I'd rather be anywhere but here. Because his personality is not warm and fuzzy, and he's closed off and unrevealing in most of his interviews, Cutler's public perception does him no favors. In that particular case – performing ineffectively and trailing in frigid temperatures – many assumed he was using the hit to his knee as an excuse to take the easy way out.
Conversely, I've followed Cutler's career closely and have seen him get pummeled, shake it off and pop back up with steely regularity. As with John Madden, who fervently defended the quarterback and railed against his detractors in the wake of the NFC title game, I have an acute understanding of the challenges posed by Type 1 diabetes and the way the condition tests Cutler on a constant and unrelenting basis.
So, was he wimping out? The tiebreaker, for me, is this: The man is a professional football player, and I have a hard time believing that he'd take a dive in the biggest game of his life, because almost everyone driven and diabolical enough to get to the NFL did so in part because he simply isn't wired that way. As Cowboys cornerback Terence Newman(notes) put it so eloquently in an article I wrote for GQ last February, "Let's face it, a lot of us are in this game because we're a little crazy…"
In the two-plus decades I've spent covering pro football, from Ronnie Lott to Ray Lewis(notes), the slightly imbalanced dudes have drawn me in and illuminated my comprehension of this unique, violent and exhilarating game.
It can also be very deceptive to the viewer, depending upon one's vantage point. Watch it on TV, or from the press box, or from a faraway perch in a stadium, and it seems so skill-oriented, strategic and sanitized. Take a trip down to an NFL sideline, and it's a series of brutal collisions involving men whose mindsets are more akin to those of soldiers than those of, say, pro basketball players.
Every time I stuck up for the players during the lockout and generated grumbles from pro-management fans like, "They're playing a game, these guys should be happy with whatever the owners want to pay them," I threw up a little in my mouth. What, because some of you played high school football and think you were this close to making a career of it, you believe you can relate to the dudes in the NFL?
I'm laughing so hard, I think I almost broke a rib.
Know this: These dudes are highly skilled and specialized laborers, albeit expendable ones, and their freakishness when it comes to height, weight and speed is overshadowed by their willingness to subject their bodies to irrational circumstances and unfathomable stress and pain.
As we learn more about the scary ramifications of repeated head trauma, we're starting to get a small sense of what players like Vick (who unsuccessfully tried to convince team trainers to allow him to remain in last Sunday night's game) and Smith (who went the distance against the Cowboys) are risking by shaking off concussions and getting back under center.
And Romo? Well, the next time I hear him described as a guy who doesn't have the drive it takes to lead his team to a championship, I'm going to be very tempted to restrict the air flow of the person making the claim.
Playing with a punctured lung and fractured rib is not something you or I would do, nor would an undrafted kid from Eastern Illinois who's just happy to be a starting quarterback. It's what slightly insane people do, and there's no way it can be faked.
One of Romo's teammates, running back DeMarco Murray(notes), told Dallas radio station KESN-FM that the quarterback "could barely breathe. We were just seeing him grunting, and when he was trying to talk, he was just kind of holding on. You could see it in his facial expressions that he was hurt."
Right, because every breath was accompanied by a knifing, unforgiving surge of pain, and only one of his lungs was functioning. Romo's decision to keep making throws – and to leave himself vulnerable to additional hits and even more severe damage – sounds like lunacy, but in his world it's actually quite normal.
The subsequent admission from Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall(notes) to The Washington Post that he'll target Romo's rib and lung region come Monday night at Cowboys Stadium – "I want to get a chance to put my helmet on whatever's hurt" – surely did nothing to change the quarterback's mentality. I'd guess that Romo shrugged upon reading the comments, except that the act of shrugging is probably so painful right now, even an eye-roll seems physically unlikely.
[ Related: DeAngelo Hall says he's targeting Romo's ribs ]
I suggest you consider the degree to which NFL players push their physical limits on a regular basis the next time you feel like weighing in on an injury's severity, and how it might affect the fortunes of the team you root for, bet on or drafted in a fantasy league.
Remember, you're not a doctor – you just play one on Twitter. And it's a hell of a lot less dangerous than playing in the NFL.
TAKE IT TO THE ATM
The Bills will break a 15-game losing streak to the Patriots by outscoring Tom Brady(notes) and friends – and fans at The Ralph will be very tempted to storm the field in celebration. … Coming off an emotional victory over the Eagles, the Falcons will succumb to their lack of offensive rhythm and lose to the finally awake Bucs in Tampa. … The Seahawks will look like a different team at Qwest Field in beating the Cardinals (or it's going to be a long, long season in the Pacific Northwest, and I will never pick them again).
PLEASE, BOSS, SEND ME TO …
The Black Hole, where the Raiders and Jets should be ready to rumble in what I regard as a potential playoff preview. I might get some crispy chicken tacos from Cactus Taqueria during my trip to Oaktown – and maybe I'll even bring a Top Dog for a certain visiting Southern Californian.
LIES, LIES, LIES
[ Related: Get your NFL tickets here ]
3. After reading a report that Jerome Simpson's(notes) "whereabouts were unknown" during Thursday's practice, Bengals owner Mike Brown replaced the wideout on the roster with distant cousin Daniel Simpson Day.
WORLD'S SIMPLEST POOL
Two weeks down, two blowouts in the books: The Steelers' shutout of the Seahawks last Sunday, combined with the Texans' Week 1 rout of the Colts, means my picks have cruised collectively by a 58-7 margin thus far. Alas, all that buys me is a trip to Week 3, and I don't see any obviously one-sided affairs on the horizon. I'm even picking a road team, which I don't like to do: Though the Ravens are coming off an abysmal performance at Tennessee, I'm banking on the bounce-back against the Rams in St. Louis – and the assumption that the Baltimore team I saw in the season opener, or at least some semblance of it, will show up at the Edward Jones Dome.
Remember, you can find all of my picks here – notice the 28-4 record, thanks to a second consecutive 14-2 week (and yes, I realize it won't last, so I'm savoring it) – and receive the analysis behind them by registering for the Silver Insider at ridewithsilver.com. For what it's worth, my undefeated record in "Locks of the Week" is also on the line.
FANTASY ANNOYANCE OF THE WEEK
It was a 21st century clash between fantasy and reality – and my buddy Malibu was the big loser. After Sabbath Bloody Sabbath opened the season with a league-high points total, things quickly degenerated: He got the lowest score in his 12-team league last week to drop to 1-1; his top draft pick, Jamaal Charles(notes), went down with a season-ending knee injury; and there wasn't a decent replacement running back in sight. "I'm screwed," Malibu told me Wednesday afternoon. On Thursday, it got worse. I learned that Cedric Benson(notes), his top remaining halfback (his others are Mike Tolbert(notes) and Darren Sproles(notes)), has been informed he'll be suspended for three games because of a violation of the league's personal-conduct policy, pending Tuesday's appeal to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. Shortly thereafter, I broke the news. A bit later, I informed Malibu via text and urged him to pick up Benson's Bengals backup, Bernard Scott(notes). Problem: Someone else in Malibu's league who apparently has much less of a life (Malibu was traveling for work) claimed Scott about three minutes after my report hit the Internet. So now Malibu is really screwed. "You should have told me first!" he protested. "What kind of fantasy advisor are you?" Well, I'm the kind who believes Benson's suspension (for conduct that occurred during the lockout) is troubling on a level much more significant than its affect on fantasy fortunes. Yep, I'm a bad fantasy advisor. On a positive note, I advised him to play Devin Hester(notes) (vs. Packers' leaky secondary) ahead of Julio Jones(notes) (at Bucs, still looking for breakout game) in his battle against railroad-aficionado-owned Cleveland Steamers. "Wow," Malibu said. "You're so kind."
Cal women's basketball coach Lindsay Gottlieb isn't mad at me (yet), as Bringin' It Back ran its record to 2-0. She'll try to stay perfect against 0-2 Yo Gabba Gabbert – to honor her opponent's name, I persuaded her to pick up Carolina's defense (vs. Jacksonville). I'm also iffy on the Falcons this week, so she benched Ryan for Kevin Kolb(notes) (at Seahawks) and Jones for Plaxico Burress(notes) (his quarterback and coach apologized for not getting him enough balls last week), along with subbing the rising Willis McGahee(notes) (at Titans) for the underperforming Shonn Greene(notes) (at Raiders).
LET'S DO SOME DON JULIO SILVER SHOTS FOR …
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, the Cal alums who on Tuesday were released from an Iranian prison after more than two years of incarceration. Jailed and charged with espionage, Bauer and Fattal (and previously released hiking companion Sarah Shourd, Bauer's fiancée) were seemingly subjected to this ordeal because they had a bad sense of direction. I hope they break out the Don Julio and stay on this continent for the foreseeable future – and maybe spend some time in the center of the universe, where a whole lot of people I know would happily pick up the tab. And on a far more trivial and personal note, I'm also lining up a few shots in honor of one of the focal points of my universe, my 15-year-old daughter, who over the previous five days has played four games (in two sports) and scored four goals, three of them game-winners, the last of which broke a scoreless tie with a minute to play.
THIS WEEK'S PROOF THAT CAL IS THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
In an unexpected development that has thrilled recently departed teammate and U.S. national team star Alex Morgan, Cal's women's soccer team is looking like a legitimate NCAA title contender. The Bears take a No. 11 national ranking and a seven-game winning streak into Friday's Pac-12 opener against Arizona State in Berkeley and host 21st-ranked Santa Clara two days later. With 10 goals and three assists, senior striker Katie Benz has replaced Morgan as the team's most dangerous finisher, and the loaded lineup ranks fourth in the country in scoring offense (3.75 goals per game).
There's a huge field hockey showdown at Stanford on Friday night as the 12th-ranked Bears battle the eighth-ranked Cardinal in a NorPac Conference clash. It's likely the first of three meetings between the rivals. Cal's defending national champion men's and women's swimming and diving teams (man, I love the sound of that) return to the pool with respective meets in San Luis Obispo, Calif., while the top-ranked women's volleyball team opens Pac-12 play at USC on Friday.
Let's see – what else? – oh, right, football. Coming off a 63-12 victory over Presbyterian (no comment), Cal (3-0) travels to Seattle to face Washington in its Pac-12 opener Saturday afternoon. Meanwhile, I know my fellow Cal alum Adam Duritz will be thrilled that his buddy Roxy Bernstein is providing play-by-play for Texas A&M's home game against Oklahoma State and potentially singing the praises of a sublimely named Aggies running back.
YAHOO! SEARCH WORDS OF THE WEEK
LYRIC-ALTERED SONG DEDICATION OF THE WEEK
As I stated earlier, I believe Sunday has the potential to be a big, big day at The Ralph. I'm guessing there are more than a few people in Western New York who feel similarly, and I picture them serenading their 2-0 heroes with lubed-up abandon. To the tune of the Beatles' "The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill," with this guy doing the John Lennon lead vocal.
Let's go out Brady hunting with Shawne Merriman(notes) and friends
And tell Bill Belichick, "Don't punt on fourth-and-10"
He's the stone-and-sour-faced hoodie-wearing miked-up cheating Grinch
All the drunkards sing
Hey, Buffalo Bills
Give us a thrill
Hey Buffalo Bills
Give us a thrill
Under Niagara where the barrels crash and sink
Decades of shattered dreams and teams we knew would stink
And Captain Checkdown rolling out the dunk and dink – crap
Pass the chicken wings
Hey, Buffalo Bills
Give us a thrill
Hey Buffalo Bills
Give us a thrill
From Thurman's helmet to wide right we've been good fans
In Music City we called Rob Johnson The Man
If refs could see it would have been Wade instead of Chan
Now Fitzpatrick's king
Hey, Buffalo Bills
Give us a thrill
Hey Buffalo Bills
Give us a thrill
Buffalo Bills …
- Michael Vick