CHICAGO - OCTOBER 24: Jay Cutler #6 of the Chicago Bears talks with teammates including Caleb Hanie #12 on the bench during a game against the Washington Redskins at Soldier Field on October 24, 2010 in Chicago, Illinois. The Redskins defeated the Bears 17-14. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) *** Local Caption *** Jay Cutler; Caleb Hanie
Chicago is a city in mourning.
You hear it in the listless arguments pouring out of bars and office buildings everywhere. Woulda. Coulda. Shoulda.
Fans feel like jilted lovers, left at the altar. So close to a happily-ever-after. So close to ending 25 years of futility.
The Bears season was more successful than the Patriots. More successful than the Colts. More successful than Brett Favre's Vikings or the defending champion Saints. The Bears were one of four teams left standing. Not good enough, huh?
All that grief has to go somewhere and it's landing square on Jay Cutler's left knee. The verdict? A "Grade II" tear of the MCL. A doctor for ESPN says there's no way Cutler could have continued to play. And now, after the post-game PR debacle, Lovie Smith is finally stepping up to assert it was his call to pull Jay from the game.
Does that make you feel better? Or are you still looking to burn your quarterback in effigy?
It seems Drew Brees played with a similar MCL injury for six weeks this season. So we can blame Jay! It's still his fault. It's all his fault we're not in the Super Bowl. Keep telling yourself that if it makes you feel better.
In 29 other NFL locker rooms this morning, eliminated teams are looking toward the future. The draft. Free agency. Next year.
But in Chicago, we're stuck in the past. An endless loop of glum-faced Jay Cutler plays in our heads. He's standing there on the sidelines. He's mocking us by standing when he should be writhing on the ground in pain. There is no tomorrow for the Chicago Bears. There is only Sunday, January 23. Burned into our eyeballs.
That's the problem with this franchise and its fans. Everything is about yesterday. A team that won a championship 25 years ago hangs like a shadow over the city. Ditka. McMahon. Payton. Singletary. A stupid, juvenile music video.
Remember the team the '85 Bears demolished in that Super Bowl? They've been to five Super Bowls since. And they won three of them. Meanwhile, an entire generation has grown up in Chicago, thinking the Rex Grossman Bears were the pinnacle of football.
If the Bears want to become an elite team, they need to take their focus off the past and start looking forward. Look at the team that won Sunday. The Packers have a rich tradition and history. They even have recent success, going to two Super Bowls under Brett Favre. But the Packers had the guts to jettison a legend to look to the future. And now that future - Aaron Rodgers - has them back atop the football landscape.
So Jay Cutler's knee gave out. Eliminating Jay won't put Chicago closer to the Super Bowl. This defense only has a few more years before age rips them apart. The Bears need to act with surgical precision to move forward. Grab a wide receiver, solidify that offensive line and tighten up the secondary. Do that, and we'll see how far this team can go.
Or keep living in the past. The NFL moves on, with or without you.