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Jay Cutler, Robert Griffin III and the Media

Why did ESPN try to inject Jay Cutler's January 2011 knee injury into the conversation about Robert Griffin III's knee injury? They really didn't need to.


I think I get how this whole media thing works. At least, I think I do.

So a quarterback coming off a Pro Bowl appearance is on the verge of being replaced by a hotshot new coach for a hotshot low-round pick thrust into a starting role and performing serviceably well. When the deal falls through, the coach attempts to patch things up with his Pro Bowl quarterback, only the quarterback, the team's first round draft pick, will have none of it, feeling slighted by the coach's attempts to get "his guy" from his former team.

The quarterback is traded to Chicago for a massive bounty - two first round picks, a third, and another starting quarterback aren't exactly cannon fodder here - thus creating expectations that, hey, the missing piece is here! Right, Jerry Angelo?

"We have to get the quarterback position stabilized. We're fixated on that."

For the record, typed from memory.

But yes, the quarterback position was stabilized. Or at least, as stable as can be while getting dropped on his head or scrambling for his life. Or as stable as a minimally serviceable receiving corps can help the quarterback to be. Or as stable as the offensive coordinator position around him.

It's a perfect storm. Jay Cutler came to Chicago with high expectations, a fanbase that was starved for a quarterback, and a ready-made quiver of arrows in the form of excuses and factors weighing heavily into his success, fired at a moment's notice upon any that would dare impugn the new man in town, however true they may be.

He came with flaws, though - flaws that analysts all around would latch onto at a moment's notice. His mechanics aren't perfect. His decision-making on the field can lapse from time to time. He still doesn't know that it's okay to throw the ball away. Occasionally, his spoken tone may indicate he'd rather be elsewhere than talking to the media.

One of these things is not like the other...

You can't argue against Jay Cutler's "toughness." It's evident at each sack he takes, each sack he otherwise fights off, each time he hangs in the pocket or scrambles, keeping his eyes downfield all the while. The fact of the matter is, when you're injured, you're not going to play at your optimal level most of the time. Sure, you have your "separated shoulder throws a game winning touchdown." You also have your Ben Roethlisberger playing through a broken thumb.

But, you also have Robert Griffin III, and then you have Jay Cutler himself. And that leads me into what Lester called the "Dumbest. Question. Ever." Which, for the record, I wholeheartedly agree with.

Jay Cutler, as you all remember, injured his knee, tried to play on it, was extremely ineffective, and left the NFC Championship Game against the Packers, leading into the stupidest media brouhaha ever (until Thursday), questioning his toughness, his leadership, and everything short of his association with ThorCo. Anyway, there was this perception of Cutler as a whiner, a baby, someone not tough enough to hack it in the big games. In a team game, it was all Cutler. And suddenly again, he was a wuss, a pouter, disinterested, not a leader.

Robert Griffin III tried to play last weekend on a sprained knee. Griffin aggravated the injury in the second quarter, but stayed on the field even after the Redskins opened up a 14-0 lead. The Redskins didn't score a single point afterwards, averaging a yard and a half per play the remainder of the game.

Griffin tore his ACL and LCL and could miss a large chunk of next season. The Redskins were the target of a public plea by the players' union to improve the playing surface. Mike Shanahan has been under a bit of fire, saying that he followed the recommendation of his team's doctors. Dr. James Andrews, noted surgeon and on the field for Redskins' games, said he did not clear Griffin to return against the Ravens initially, but Griffin eventually returned and left for good four plays later. Griffin, after re-injuring the knee, urged Shanahan to keep him in and Shanahan agreed.

So for Griffin, it's probes and controversy spinning around him, while he's the tough football player. For Cutler, there's no protection. In fact, when ESPN asks the question "Is Jay Cutler to blame for Robert Griffin III's injury," that's when you know something's up.

Now obviously Cutler didn't smash Griffin's knee with a chair pre-game - the question relates more to Cutler's injury and situation being on Griffin's mind. But the answer to that is in ESPN's own question - there's no reason to ask it, at all. Players unfortunately get injured all the time. So why ask it? At the least, Griffin is hailed a hero for at least one postseason week for playing on a tough injury.

Cutler's situation probably never entered Griffin's mind, given that it was two years ago. Why would it? "Okay, my knee is hurt pretty bad, but if I don't go back out there, I'll get grilled by the media--" And right there, you realize that's a horrible thought process for an NFL quarterback.

It's as simple as Cutler not thinking he was the best option to win the game after his injury (well, trouble planting would do that) and Griffin thinking he was the best option to win the game.

Who knows if Griffin's knee will be the same next year? Griffin could have an Adrian Peterson-like resurgence, or he could turn into Rex Grossman post-multiple-leg-injuries. If he'd have taken himself out earlier, and not pushed to stay in, he'd likely not have to find out. And it's not like the 'Skins were lacking in backup quality, with Kirk Cousins having won a game this season.

But the lesson to be learned in all this: Be the greatest next thing in the NFL, be adored and fawned over by the media. Almost get replaced, get traded, have a flaw or two and not be endearing to the media, get blindly thrust into a conversation that paints you in the worst light just because.

And unfortunately, as long as Cutler's in the NFL, that's his line. It's unfortunate because he's focused on for quite possibly the dumbest things instead of what he does or doesn't do on the field. It's unfortunate because it's created in part from his departure from Denver, four years ago. It's unfortunate because of its insistence on being perpetuated. I've both defended Cutler and taken him to the woodshed in my time here, but the fixation with his demeanor, his "lack of toughness" and the completely non-factually-based reliance on his apathy as a reflection of how much he cares about being a football player just needs to be done with.

Jay Cutler had nothing to do with how Robert Griffin III handled his injury. But unfortunately, everything to do with how ESPN chose to stupidly handle it.