The Bears Protect Jay Cutler

Sunday was a tough day for the and a brutal day for quarterback Jay Cutler.

Cutler was banged around and harassed by the and eventually knocked out of the game.

On Monday the Bears said that Cutler had sprained his left medial collateral ligament. But the hardest shots were administered primarily by players using social media to express their surprise that Cutler did not return after he was hurt.

The public criticism from players was seemingly unprecedented and harsh. If Cutler had any doubts about where he stood in the N.F.L. fraternity, they were resolved. If Cutler wondered if his team had his back, those concerns were resolved, too. The Bears’ locker room was solidly behind Cutler.

“For the people who have been around here, when you’re trying to decide whether Jay Cutler is a tough guy or not, think about what he’s gone through,” Coach Lovie Smith said. “This guy took a lot of shots throughout; was sacked a lot of times, had a concussion, came back from that. I don’t think anybody’s questioning his toughness.”

Not within the Bears organization.

General Manager Jerry Angelo said: “If you watched this football team and you come in here thinking that Jay Cutler isn’t tough, something’s wrong with your vision. I can’t even believe that I’m sitting here talking about Cutler’s toughness. If the one thing you’re going to ask me about Cutler, I’m going to start with toughness, then I’ll probably start with his arm.

“I thought they were a union,” Angelo added. “If that’s the way they unionize themselves, they got bigger issues than the one they have with the owners. I’m very disappointed. That to me is dirty pool.”

Linebacker Lance Briggs defended Cutler, but pointed out that the players who leveled criticism had nothing to do with unity and the looming labor battle.

“That’s a separate situation,” Briggs said. The players sending messages, he said, were watching and responding as fans. “The bargaining agreement comes from another area,” he said. “The players realize we are together and we have to be together for the negotiations.”

One of Cutler’s Twitter critics was Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew. Bears defensive back Chris Harris called out Jones-Drew, who missed the last two games with an injured knee.

“It’s an unwritten code for players not to bash another player based on an injury,” he said. “It would be easy for me to sit up and say, ‘Hey, Maurice Jones-Drew, you should have played your last two games of the season, even though you had an injury and your team was still fighting for a playoff run.’ I could say that, but I’m not going to do it.”

All of this rhetoric is losers’ lament.

In Pittsburgh and Green Bay the conversation on Monday was happy days and celebration. Only in New York and Chicago was anyone wasting time uttering, “If I Only Woulda Coulda Shoulda.”

What would have happened had Brian Urlacher run his interception all the way back for a touchdown and not been tripped up on a shoestring tackle by Aaron Rodgers?

What would have happened had Chicago sent Caleb Hanie in for Cutler in the third quarter instead of the useless Todd Collins?

Had the Bears won, the conversation on Monday would have been how a game Cutler was replaced by a third-string quarterback who led the Bears to the .

Instead, the Bears lose and Cutler becomes a reviled figure in Chicago, in large part because his body language suggested that he didn’t care and wasn’t engaged in the game.

“We’re in a perception business; I don’t create perception, you create perception,” Angelo said, referring to the news media.

For many fans, toughness in a quarterback is the model. Taking hits, sustaining a multitude of injuries, returning to the field without missing a play and leading a team to victory.

“But look how that worked out for Favre this year,” Hanie said. “He didn’t really help his team that much with that playing through these injuries. He wasn’t very productive.”

broke his nose against the this season and did not miss a play.

“A broken nose is a lot different than a bad knee,” Hanie said. “Being a quarterback you got to plant and throw against N.F.L. elite corners; you need to have everything you got on your arm on your throws, so if you don’t have that, it’s going to be tough to be successful.”

On Monday someone suggested that the outpouring of criticism directed at Cutler stemmed from a lack of respect. “It seems that way,” Harris said.

But when Angelo was asked about respect, he cut to the bottom line. “You get respect by one thing in this league, winning.

“It’s not about whether I like him or don’t like him, if he’d be a good neighbor or not a good neighbor,” Angelo said. “You get respect in this league and credibility by winning. It’s about performance.”

Injured, not injured. Engaged, not engaged. Jay Cutler did not perform on Sunday and lost credibility that could take a Super Bowl appearance to regain.

E-mail: wcr@nytimes.com

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: January 26, 2011

A Sports of The Times column on Tuesday about criticism of Bears quarterback Jay Cutler following their loss to the Green Bay Packers in the National Football Conference championship game on Sunday misstated the Bears’ most recent Super Bowl appearance. It was four years ago, when they lost to the Indianapolis Colts — not 25 years ago, when they beat the New England Patriots.

Fox’s Aikman Gave Bears’ Cutler Benefit of the Doubt

Fox’s did not question Cutler’s toughness, as , or the extent of his injury, which the Bears said on Monday was a sprained medial collateral ligament.

“When I left the booth,” Aikman said by phone Monday, “I was talking to one of the guys and said, ‘As soon as you say he could have come back and played, you’ll read in the paper the next day that it’s a blown-out knee.’ ” He added, “If a player’s not playing, I assume that the guy can’t play.”

Aikman recalled a game when a Dallas teammate, center Mark Stepnoski, hurt a knee but told no one, then stayed in for six more plays. “He said, ‘I don’t know what’s wrong,’ but it turned out from an M.R.I. that he’d blown his A.C.L.,” Aikman said. “He thought it was a sprain.”

Cutler’s team rushed to his defense Monday. Coach Lovie Smith told The Associated Press that Cutler, who was sacked a league-leading 52 times this season, “showed a lot of toughness to continue to play with it.” Smith emphasized it was the team that decided to bench Cutler.

The third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie said, “I’ll just tell you this, the one thing I know about Jay Cutler is he’s tough.”

To Aikman, the vitriolic reaction to Cutler was about the attitude he has shown since he arrived in the league. Aikman said, “I think it speaks to how polarizing he has become.”

And the severity of Cutler’s injury might have inadvertently been played down by the Bears when they termed his return “questionable” and by Fox’s being unable to find the play on which he was injured.

“To say he was ‘questionable’ implies the injury wasn’t too bad,” Aikman said.

CROMARTIE SOUNDS OFF Using the same salty language as he had two weeks earlier to describe New England quarterback , cornerback Antonio Cromartie lashed out at the players union and the league for the lack of progress on a new collective bargaining agreement. “You don’t get no information about nothing from the union or the owners,” he said. Cromartie said the two sides had to come together and stop complaining about money, adding, “Money ain’t nothing.”

Cromartie, who completed his first year with the Jets and is to become a free agent, said he was angry because a potential lockout would prevent him from pursuing his livelihood. Cromartie said he did not care if union and league negotiators got mad at him.

“This is what we do for our careers,” he said. “And you are dealing with hundreds of thousands of other people that are in this workplace as well.” DAVE CALDWELL

BRADY LEADS ALL-PRO TEAM quarterback Tom Brady is the leading vote-getter for The Associated Press 2010 All-Pro Team. Brady, one of three New England players on the team, was a unanimous choice by the panel of 50 members of the news media. defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh was the only rookie to be chosen. (AP)

SAY NO TO PALMER The Bengals made it clear they want to keep quarterback , 31, who recently asked for a trade. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer and the team’s Web site, the owner Mike Brown said, “He was told that, and that we count on him going forward.” Palmer, the first overall pick in 2003, led the Bengals to the playoffs in 2005 and 2009 — Cincinnati’s only winning seasons in the last 20 years. (AP)

AGUILERA TO SING ANTHEM It was announced that , a five-time Grammy winner, will sing the national anthem at the . It will be her second performance at a Super Bowl; she was part of the halftime show in 2000. (AP)

NEW HIGHS FOR TV RATINGS In a demonstration of the ’s drawing power, the conference championship games Sunday were seen by an average of nearly 107 million viewers, including 54.9 million for Pittsburgh’s 24-19 victory over the Jets, the most for an A.F.C. title game.

The last time the A.F.C. championship game exceeded 50 million viewers was in 1982, when Cincinnati defeated San Diego, 27-7, in the so-called Freezer Bowl at Riverfront Stadium. The game’s viewership peaked at 57.5 million between 7:30 and 8 p.m. Eastern.

’s win over Chicago attracted 51.9 million viewers, the most for an N.F.C. title game played in the early Sunday time slot, but below the 57.9 million for last year’s New Orleans-Minnesota game, which was primarily in prime time.

RICHARD SANDOMIR