The Bears quarterback remains an unpopular figure in Chicago and the league despite his performance on field, writes Mike Tierney.
Jay Cutler does not cut it yet in NFL
An athlete's popularity, or lack thereof, often hinges on how they are perceived from brief video clips, sound bites and Twitter feeds about them.
The quarterback antithesis of the Manning brothers, who host late-night TV shows and appear in just about every other ad on television, is Jay Cutler of Chicago. An occasionally prickly personality, a poor record at his previous gig and a reputation among the misinformed as a softy has cast Cutler in an unfavourable light.
Fans see him delivering snippy responses in interviews, dressing down teammates or disrespecting a coach. Some cannot erase the memory of him at the 2010 NFC Championship game limping off in the third period, then spending the rest of the game walking or riding a stationary bike on the sidelines as a helpless back-up guided the Bears to defeat.
Several players around the league stirred in their recliners and tweeted accusations that the wimp QB had abandoned his team.
There were few apologies when Cutler was later diagnosed with a sprained MCL – not a devastating injury but one that coach Lovie Smith said might have kept him out of the Super Bowl.
Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher, the poster boy for tough-guy players, rose to his defence, saying, "Jay was hurt. I don't question his toughness ... He's one of the toughest guys on our football team."
Popularity aside, quarterbacks are judged ultimately on record, and few have out-victoried Cutler lately. Since returning from a concussion two seasons back, he is 20-6, including 5-1 this year.
The lone loss provoked the latest criticism. Cutler was seen venting at offensive linemen and walking away from an assistant coach seeking his attention.
Cutler admits that he is not everybody's buddy in the locker room, but claims that such outbursts emanate from him giving more than a darn.
"I care about this," he said. "This isn't just a hobby ... If they want a quarterback that doesn't care, they can get someone else."
Denver got someone else for 2009, acquiring Matt Cassel to challenge Cutler, who went 17-22 as a starter. He complained bitterly, and his image was cemented when the Broncos traded him.
Chicago is a tough town, and it has been slow to warm to Cutler, despite his history of playing through – or rebounding quickly from – injuries.
Last weekend, body-slammed to the turf by Detroit's Ndamukong Suh, Cutler soldiered on with sore ribs. He will answer the ball tonight, wearing his customary flak jacket. Any change in perception will be slow in coming.
A fans survey by Nielsen and E-Poll Market Research determined that Cutler is the NFL's second least-liked player – behind Suh. For once, it offered a match-up in which he was the crowd favourite.
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