Today was a pretty nice finale to the #handegg season as many of the games on tap had playoff implications. Many Cubs fans are either Bears or Packers fans (depending on which side of the Illinois-Wisconsin border they’re on, I guess) and so today’s late game between Green Bay and Chicago at Soldier Field was of particular interest. As you may have heard, the Packers (in Aaron Rodgers’ return) squeaked by with a 33-28 victory and clinched the pathetic NFC North, while the Bears pack it in until next season.
I have to admit to a small feeling of joy because Aaron Rodgers and I share an alma mater (who knows if he actually graduated though) and when he was QB, that was when our school was the most successful at football in my memory. (Today was also sad because another “alum,” Tony Gonzalez, played his last NFL game.) Rodgers was returning from a broken collarbone suffered against these Bears and was likely rusty. The stat lines do show that Rodgers did not have as good of a QB rating as Jay Cutler. The funny thing is that despite the fact that a broken collarbone is bad for an athlete who has to use his shoulders and arm to do his job, it seemed that many Green Bay fans were calling Rodgers a pansy (or worse) for not playing before this week. That actually plays into the #narrative that I want to talk about with Cutler.
I also have to say that I am nowhere close to an expert on American football, though I know the rules fairly well and understand basic play design and clock management. I think this gives me a similar amount of ammo to defend a guy like Jay Cutler as the folks on the Twitters and Facebooks who are blasting him for being the reason the Bears lose, and lost tonight. I’m not sure what’s up with that, but I distinctly recall in the 2010 NFC Championship game against the Packers that Cutler had a knee injury, yet was walking along the sidelines. When I saw that, I immediately thought “medial collateral ligament” and it turned out I was correct in my assessment. Given the need for mobility in the pocket, a QB with a busted knee probably doesn’t help the team much, even if it looks like he can walk; I’m going to put a bit of trust in the medical/training staff who are supposed to be experts on this. And I remain confused as to how a fan base that hasn’t seen a competent QB in goodness knows how long could talk so badly about Cutler.
I did watch most of the game today because of the playoff implications, and it looked like Cutler did fine. The offense was putting up points, so Cutler did his job. The problems I saw were one part referees, one part defensive incompetence, and a few parts bad luck. I did feel like the refs screwed the Bears on Coach Trestman’s challenge and that one “roughing the passer” call was bunk. The fumble-into-touchdown that all of Twitter went WTF on was the result of the entire Bears defense taking a collective brain dump. And the Packers’ go-ahead touchdown was the result of a broken play and OH MY GOD HOW DID THAT GUY GET SO OPEN. From my vantage point, Cutler did his job, guiding the offense to 28 points. Yet somehow, it was his fault (in part, anyway, since some fans were kind enough to heap a fraction of the blame on everyone else).
The one big “mistake” Cutler made was on the Hail Mary pass. If you are unfamiliar with what a Hail Mary is, consider that the Bears need a touchdown to win the game (there’s no chance for a tie), but they’re at mid-field with less than 10 seconds to go. So the only hope for said touchdown is to chuck the ball towards the end zone and hope that your guy catches it before the other guys do. This type of play logically has a very small chance of success, and unfortunately for Cutler and the Bears, the prayer was intercepted.
At this point I had to go get the wife from work and when we drove to the restaurant to watch the rest of the game on TV, it was past the two minute warning with Green Bay in possession. That was when I had the ZOMFG HE WAS SO OPEN moment where the Packers went ahead on a ridiculous fourth down play. The Bears had 38 seconds and a couple timeouts to try to win, but I don’t really see how that was Cutler’s fault considering he wasn’t playing defense. Anyway, as the Hail Mary pass found its way into a Green Bay defender’s hands, I heard a gentleman exclaim at the bar, “I TOLD YOU! I TOLD YOU that’s what to expect from Cutler!”
I was incredulous at that statement because of everything we just discussed. Cutler didn’t cough up the lead. Cutler didn’t put the team in the position of having to score a touchdown with less than a minute on the clock. But Cutler got the bulk of the blame. Is that really fair?
The #narrative stretches to other sports, including baseball, and especially when we talk about the Cubs. Think of all the times fans talked bad about players like Aramis Ramirez (oh, he’s slow, he doesn’t hustle, he isn’t clutch) or Derrek Lee (he hits into too many double plays). Think of all the Cubs players who are made scapegoats when a number of happenings led to the situation that they were in when they failed, in a game that favors failure. What I think happens is that fans have already made up their minds about a player (no matter the sport) and will force the narrative upon that player when a negative play occurs. For the Bears, it happens to be Jay Cutler. For the Cubs, it’s (insert Cub player here) of the season. Context doesn’t matter, and sometimes, facts don’t matter either. All that matters is #narrative.
I don’t think that’s very sporting. Do you?