It was the team's decision, but the sight of singularly unlikeable Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler standing on the sideline in a parka and knit hat for a large chunk of yesterday's NFC championship game loss to the Green Bay Packers prompted swift and harsh reactions. Active NFL players assailed the quarterback's toughness via Twitter (he was out with a knee injury). Chicagoland residents torched their No. 6 Cutler jerseys. Around the Web, a handful of voices mustered a defense for the only NFL player "as popular as gout":

  • Unfair  Cutler's reputation for being "boorish" and "condescending with the media and distant with fans" is well-earned, acknowledges Jim Trotter, but after covering yesterday's game, the Sports Illustrated columnist is ready to take the Chicago quarterback at his word. "The look in [Cutler's] eyes after hearing that players around the league questioned his integrity told me something that an MRI cannot," says Trotter. "The pain in his heart was far greater than anything he felt in his knee."
  • The Chicago Way  ESPN's Michael Wilbon says Bears fans aren't lashing out at Cutler per se. They're frustrated with the franchise's historical inability to develop a franchise quarterback. Wilbon, a Chicago native, explains the dynamic:
The only thing older than the Bears-Packers rivalry is the Bears' failure over most of that time at quarterback...Only a Bears quarterback could stink out the joint and then get worse while sitting on the sideline...It's hard for those of us who've grown up following the Bears to not wonder how many more championships the franchise would have won if the club played year in, year out with a competent quarterback.I'm 52 years old and have followed a team whose top quarterback, by passer efficiency, is Erik Kramer. It's a team whose best quarterback (Sid Luckman) has been retired 60 years, whose best receivers (Johnny Morris and Harlon Hill) have been retired 47 and 50 years, whose all-time leading receiver (Walter Payton) is a running back who has 170 more receptions than the franchise's No. 1 wide receiver.
  • Hung Out To Dry  The Chicago Tribune's David Haugh faults Bears management for handling the injury in a hamfisted manner. "The mistake the Bears organization made was allowing any ambiguity about the injury and Cutler's status," writes Haugh. "The team made no announcement that Cutler officially was 'out' and the lack of specificity over the injury allowed hasty speculation to mount."
  • Tougher Than The Rest  Those maligning Cutler's fortitude clearly aren't familiar with the quarterback's body of work, writes Rick Telander in the Chicago Sun-Times. "The guy has missed only two games since he became a starter for the Broncos five years ago...He was sacked 57 times this season, including the postseason — and he always bounces back. He has played with Type 1 diabetes for years, and, if anything, he minimizes any of his burdens." Cutler has "a lot of flaws as a quarterback" but "toughness is not one [of them]."
  • What Makes Him Great  Slate's Josh Levin argues yesterday's torrent of criticism only served to illustrate "the magic of Jay Cutler, the great leveler of men." Both "NFL fans and NFL players are predisposed to think the worst of Jay Cutler." This shared distaste resulted in active players "behaving just like fans, attacking one of their own with irrational tougher-than-thou heckling. ('You're a bum, Cutler!')" Like Ty Cobb and Barry Bonds, Cutler's a sports character to treasure, if only because "nobody but nobody likes the cut of his jib."