Jay Cutler might have been better off had he been injured in a more visually conclusive way. That would have let those watching Sunday's NFC Championship Game see the severity of the injury, or at least how it happened.
Instead, Cutler had a mild limp and stood watching his Bears lose to the Packers. The rest of the football world — including more than a few current and former NFL players — suspected that the quarterback quit.
Former Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks was one of those.
Monday, the Bears said an MRI exam revealed a sprained MCL in his left knee — reportedly a Grade II tear that usually takes 3-4 weeks to heal. Coach Lovie Smith and others came to Cutler's defense.
"I haven't seen it before," Smith said of other players using social media outlets to rip Cutler. "It seems like if you're in that fraternity, you would be stepping up for your fellow man, especially when you don't know. … You don't know what was going on."
Smith noted how Cutler's teammates have stood by him. So did one former teammate, now a Giants linebacker.
"He was the most-sacked quarterback in the SEC, never missed a beat, and won the offensive player of the year award," Jonathan Goff, Cutler's teammate at Vanderbilt, told Newsday in a text. "He's a great competitor and one of the toughest."
One doctor says an MCL tear such as Cutler's is hard to spot but can be dangerous.
"While it is easy to sit in front of the TV and criticize Cutler for not playing, sitting out was the right thing for his career and gave his team the best chance to win as he would have been a liability if he took the field," said Dr. Craig Levitz, a sports medicine specialist and chief of orthopedic surgery at South Nassau (N.Y.) Community Hospital.
Along with many current players who put critical posts up on their Twitter pages, a couple of analysts also jumped in Sunday, including ESPN's Mark Schlereth, a former Broncos offensive lineman who has had more than 20 knee surgeries. He wasn't backing off Monday.
"First of all, a first-grade tear of an MCL is a boo-boo," Schlereth told the Denver Post. "If it truly is a second-degree tear, then yeah, that's legit. There's pain. … I know a bunch of guys who could play with it. … Some guys gut it up and some guys don't."
AP ALL-PROS: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was the only unanimous selection to the team, receiving all 50 votes from a nationwide panel of media members who regularly cover the league. New England and Baltimore led the way with three first-team picks each. No Bucs were chosen for the first team, though offensive tackle Donald Penn received five votes. The lone rookie selected was Detroit defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh (see full list, 2C).
PRO BOWL: Players added to the NFC roster were Panthers linebacker Jon Beason, Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield and Redskins linebackers London Fletcher and Brian Orakpo. In the AFC, Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali and safety Eric Berry, Colts center Jeff Saturday and Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips were added.
Most of the picks replace players on the Packers and Steelers who won't play in Sunday's Pro Bowl in Hawaii because their teams are in the Super Bowl on Feb. 6. Also replaced because of injury were Bears linebackers Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs.
SEARCH OFF: A private search team called in by Ravens safety Ed Reed and family members suspended a search of the Mississippi River but planned to return "no matter the weather" at first light to continue looking for the body of Reed's brother. Brian Reed, 28, went missing Jan. 7.
JETS: Quarterback Mark Sanchez said he is "optimistic" he will not need surgery this offseason on his sore right shoulder but didn't rule out a procedure.