CHICAGO — Bears starting QB Jay Cutler was ineffective in Sunday's 21-14 loss to the Packers in the NFC Championship Game.
But the decision to take him out because of a left knee injury raised the most eyebrows in the Windy City and had many around the league questioning his toughness.
Afterward, fans were burning Cutler jerseys in the parking lot outside Soldier Field.
"He was hurt, and he couldn't go," coach Lovie Smith said. He grew agitated when asked about the decision again. "He hurt his knee and he was out, all right? There's nothing else for me to tell you on that," he said. "I don't know exactly when it happened. He couldn't go, and we moved on."
Cutler said: "It's a lonely feeling," and added that it was not his choice to come out.
Some prominent NFL players thought Cutler could have played on, and expressed that on Twitter.
Former Bucs LB Derrick Brooks had one of the strongest posts, saying "BEARS fans I am so SORRY, I have to be crawling and cant get up to come off field, Josh Freeman would not come out, MEDS ARE AVAILABLE."
After another poster wrote that Brooks and others should apologize to Cutler, Brooks responded, "What am i sorry for? i wrote what i saw and i did say I hope Cutler is okay."
Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew posted: "Hey I think the Urban Meyer rule is in effect right now … When the going gets tough … QUIT."
Cardinals DE Darnell Dockett and Raiders QB Bruce Gradkowski, an ex-Buc, were also among the Twitter critics, and even analysts Mark Schlereth and Deion Sanders jumped in.
Schlereth, a former NFL lineman and current ESPN analyst, wrote: "As a guy who had 20 knee surgeries you'd have to drag me out on a stretcher to Leave a championship game!"
The Bears stood up for their starter.
"Nothing like jealous people at home watching," LB Brian Urlacher said of the tweets. "I don't question his toughness. He's tough as hell."
The offense was sluggish anyway before third-string QB Caleb Hanie led a rally. Hanie drove the Bears on two fourth-quarter touchdown drives. But he also got picked off twice, including Packers DT B.J. Raji's 18-yard touchdown return.
The Bears quarterback is scheduled for an MRI exam today; teammates said Cutler might have a torn MCL.
PUNTER POWER: Tim Masthay helped kick Devin Hester and the Bears out of the playoffs.
Coming off a week in which he didn't punt at all against Atlanta, Masthay averaged 41.8 yards on eight punts.
But it was where they landed as much as how far they traveled that mattered. After six of his punts, the Bears started drives on their own 16, 2, 11, 18, 20 and 10.