A day after the 2010 NFC Championship Game, as you might recall, we were still discussing the national reaction to Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler's departure because of a knee injury. Both fans and NFL players immediately questioned Cutler's toughness and criticized him for disinterested body language on the sideline.
At the time, I wondered if the episode reflected Cutler's ill repute within the game more than anything else. "Substitute Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers for Cutler and let the same situation play out," I wrote in one post. "Do players around the league hammer Rodgers the same way? Or does he get the benefit of the doubt?"
That juxtaposition came to mind again this week after Cutler screamed at and bumped left tackle J'Marcus Webb in Thursday night's 23-10 loss to the Packers. As close observers noted, Rodgers also angrily reproached a teammate in the game, admonishing receiver James Jones for apparently running the wrong route on a fourth-quarter interception.
Cutler, of course, has been criticized nationally for his actions. Rodgers has escaped any harsh words, as far as I'm aware.
Is this an example of the more-popular personality getting a free pass? Or were there fundamental differences in what each quarterback did? I thought former NFL linebacker Tedy Bruschi, now an ESPN analyst, did a nice job of drawing a distinction Friday while speaking on ESPN radio.
Here's part of what Bruschi said:
"I don't even think it's a big thing that [Cutler] bumped him or he pushed him. The big thing was about when he chose to get on J'Marcus Webb, and the difference between when Aaron Rodgers chose to get on Jones, the wide receiver.
"Now J'Marcus Webb, all he did was get beat physically. He was in the right place. He did his best to block [Packers linebacker] Clay Matthews, and he got beat. Clay Matthews got the sack on Jay Cutler.
"Clay Matthews has beaten many offensive tackles who are a lot better than J'Marcus Webb. So when you get on somebody and embarrass somebody on national TV for getting beat physically, it's almost like you're kicking a man when he's down.
"OK, yes, you lost. He's just not better than Clay Matthews. Clay Matthews was better than him on that play. There's nothing you can do. There's no scheme or anything. It was one man against another, and you lose. You kick him when he's down, it's not the right thing to do.
"James Jones made a mental error. ... That's when you can get on players. That's when you can get in their grill because they made a poor decision. That justifies any type of criticism you can give them on national TV or not."
There is a little bit of a slippery slope in Bruschi's analysis. Webb might have been beaten physically, but was it because Matthews is simply better than him? Or did Webb not work hard enough on his technique in the offseason? Did he know his assignment well enough? The first explanation would justify criticism in Bruschi's analysis. The others would not.
Part of me wants to say that showing up teammates during games, whether it was for a physical defeat or a mental error, leads to nothing good. But Bruschi had a long NFL career and understands how players interpret these things. If he says that Rodgers' reaction was justified, and would be interpreted as such in the locker room, than so be it.
What do you think?