Why did so many players criticize Cutler?

CHICAGO -- It's not surprising that Chicago Bears fans are lashing out over the knee injury that prevented quarterback Jay Cutler from returning to Sunday's NFC Championship Game. As would be expected, fans are angry and frustrated and found an easy target. It happens.

What has been stunning to me, however, is the volume of NFL players who joined the chorus. This might not have happened even two years ago, but the advent of Twitter has given players a voice at a time when they used to be out of the public eye and, like us, are caught up in the emotion of watching a game on television.

As we noted Sunday, Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew said he thought Cutler should have finished the game. Colleague Mike Sando put together an item just of NFC West players who ripped him, from Arizona Cardinals defensive tackle Darnell Dockett to Seattle Seahawks linebacker Aaron Curry to Seahawks defensive end Raheem Brock -- who called him a "sissy."

Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel wrote Bears players should look at Cutler "sideways." Jaguars linebacker Kirk Morrison wrote: "If my knee was hurt or acl/mcl/pcl sprain, I would not be standing up on the sideline."

The criticism aimed at Cutler wasn't limited to current players. Former Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks tweeted:

BEARS fans I am so SORRY, I have to be crawling and cant get up to come off field,Josh Freeman would not come out, MEDS ARE AVAILABLE

Brooks followed-up that tweet with the following:

HEY there is no medicine for a guy with no guts and heart

Future Hall of Famer Deion Sanders echoed Brooks' remarks.

Folks i never question a players injury but i do question a players heart. Truth

It should be noted that no NFC North players have jumped into the fray; they have played Cutler more often than any other group. And Bears players were ruthless in defending him. We noted the angry responses from center Olin Kreutz and linebacker Brian Urlacher on Sunday. Via Twitter, safety Chris Harris wrote:

I will defend my QB all day. He was injured and he couldn't go. No one on our team questions his toughness POINT BLANK! He's a tough SOB

To all of u assaulting Jay's toughness. Are we 11-5 and NFC North Div Champs without him? No I think not. Please think before tweeting!

Thanks to social media, this really is an unprecedented situation. To have a wide swath of players criticizing another in real time, without the benefit of first-hand knowledge of the situation, is both dangerous and fascinating. What did Jones-Drew or Dockett or Brock base their opinions on? I'm guessing it was the mentality that players share of playing through injuries when at all possible.

So what do we make of the conclusions so many of them drew? Did they observe some kind of sideline activity that suggested Cutler wasn't injured enough to leave the game? Did the circumstances of the game mandate a different set of injury standards? Would Cutler have been better off flopping to the turf and then being been helped off the field?

If there were simply one or two players speaking out, maybe you could write them off as extremists. But the cross-section that we've already heard from suggests Cutler's departure struck a true nerve not just among fans but among his peers as well. Part of me wonders if it was more an indictment of Cutler's standing with his peers than it was a serious questioning of his toughness. If you don't like someone, you're going to be much less likely to give him the benefit of the doubt.

As we discussed Sunday, I'm not sure it's fair to Cutler. But this thing has gotten too big for rational thought and cooler heads to prevail. Time will tell whether the sting fades or if Cutler's reputation will take a permanent hit.