NFL notebook

Cutler has sprained knee

Bears rise up to defend their QB

Associated Press / January 25, 2011

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Jay Cutler finally got some protection, on the same day it was learned the Chicago quarterback sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee in Sunday’s NFC Championship game.

The Bears rushed to Cutler’s defense yesterday, blasting current and former players who in Twitter posts questioned his toughness for sitting out most of the second half of a 21-14 loss to Green Bay.

“I think it’s crap,’’ general manager Jerry Angelo said. “I thought they were a union. If that’s the way they unionize themselves, they got bigger issues than the one that they have with the owners. I’m very disappointed. That, to me, is dirty pool.’’

Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett, along with former players-turned-analysts Deion Sanders and Mark Schlereth, were among those who criticized Cutler on Sunday. Jones-Drew said yesterday he was merely joking and wasn’t trying to be critical.

Coach Lovie Smith said Cutler sprained his MCL late in the first half and would have been questionable for the Super Bowl Feb. 6 had the Bears won. He also emphasized the team and medical staff made the call to lift Cutler, who played the first series in the third quarter before standing on the sideline.

Cutler underwent an MRI yesterday, and did not make himself available to the media.

His coach and teammates had plenty to say, though.

“Our quarterback’s a tough guy,’’ Smith said. “It’s pretty simple what happened yesterday. Before the half, Jay hurt his knee. He showed a lot of toughness to continue to play with it.’’

The way the Bears see it, Cutler doesn’t owe anyone an apology. They think he’s owed a few, in fact.

“I can’t even believe I’m sitting here talking about Cutler’s toughness,’’ Angelo said of his quarterback who was sacked a league-leading 52 times.

“We’re in a perception business,’’ he added. “I certainly didn’t like what was said. I take that personally, too. He’s our quarterback. We wouldn’t have been where we’re at without him, and I want that to be made clear. We stand by him.’’

Jones-Drew told the Associated Press that his tweet comparing Cutler to former Florida coach Urban Meyer (“Hey I think the urban meyer rule is effect right now ... When the going gets tough........QUIT.) clearly backfired. Jones-Drew said he has received death threats and plenty of ill will from Bears fans.

“I never questioned his toughness,’’ the running back said. “I think people took my joke out of context. I was taking at shot at Florida fans.’’

Smith near extension A year ago, Bears fans were calling for Smith to be fired. Now, he’s in line for a contract extension, according to Angelo.

“We very much want to extend Lovie for the job that he’s done and his staff,’’ Angelo said. “Our focus, our intent, is to extend Lovie.’’

The Bears’ 7-1 record in the second half saved their season and, possibly, their coach’s job. It now appears unlikely Smith will go into next season with an expiring contract. He has one year left on the extension he signed after the 2006 Super Bowl season.

Jets’ best ‘yet to come’ The Jets’ made-for-TV season is over, and Rex Ryan keeps talking.

“I think that our best is still yet to come,’’ the ever-confident coach said, a day after the Jets’ 24-19 loss to the Steelers in the AFC Championship game.

There will certainly be big changes in the offseason, with several players facing uncertain futures with the team as well as an unclear labor situation. Santonio Holmes, Antonio Cromartie, and Braylon Edwards are scheduled to be free agents, while veterans such as LaDainian Tomlinson, Jason Taylor, Shaun Ellis, and Tony Richardson might have also played their last games in green and white.

“We just want to be champions,’’ Ryan said. “We know we’re on the right path. You can’t luck into two straight final fours. That doesn’t happen. We know we’re close and we’re going to work to get that goal. We’re not trying to rebuild. We want to get right back at it.’’

Holmes, a former Steeler, told reporters after the game that they needed to ask offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer about why the 2009 Super Bowl MVP didn’t play at the start of the game.

Yesterday, Ryan drew a parallel between Holmes’s comments and his own rant after the game. “It was just raw,’’ Ryan said. “That’s the emotion of it at the time. Those are things, obviously, you wish you had back.’’

Cromartie speaks out While cleaning out his locker at Jets headquarters, Cromartie used an expletive to describe union and NFL leaders in his latest profanity-filled rant to reporters.

Less than two weeks after he used the same obscenity about Tom Brady, Cromartie took on both sides in the league’s unresolved labor talks, saying they “need to get their [expletive] together and get it done.’’

“You’ve got our head union reps acting like an [expletive], and they got their guys acting like them [expletive],’’ Cromartie said.

The cornerback said he didn’t care if anybody got mad about his comments, because “you’re basically dealing with people’s livelihoods.’’

“You don’t get no information about nothing from the union or the owners,’’ he said. “To tell you the truth, they need to get their damn minds together and get this [expletive] done and stop [complaining] about money. Money ain’t nothing.’’

Sanchez will rest Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez said he is “optimistic’’ he will not need surgery this offseason on his sore right shoulder, but also didn’t rule out a procedure. He’s hoping rest will do the trick. “I’ll still talk to the doctors about it,’’ Sanchez said. “We did our exit physicals and they are thrilled about the progress I’ve made in the last couple of weeks.’’ Sanchez was injured in the Jets’ win at Pittsburgh Dec. 19, but played well through it. He was limited for some practice sessions after the injury, but the shoulder improved as the season went on. Sanchez said he will get a “couple of opinions’’ within the next week or so . . . Jets-Steelers on CBS earned the highest TV rating for an AFC Championship game in 14 years — 28.3, with a 43 share. Packers-Bears on Fox earned a 28.1/50, also the best for an NFC title game since 1997 . . . NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the retractable roof at $1.3 billion Cowboys Stadium will be closed for the Super Bowl.

Palmer trade doubtful The Bengals aren’t willing to trade quarterback Carson Palmer, who wants to leave while he’s still in his prime. Owner Mike Brown said Palmer is central to the team’s plans. “We count on him going forward,’’ Brown told The Cincinnati Enquirer and the team’s website . . . With the Super Bowl participants set and Sunday’s injuries accounted for, there were many changes to the Pro Bowl rosters. In the AFC, linebacker Tamba Hali and safety Eric Berry of the Chiefs, Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips, Browns center Alex Mack, and Colts center Jeff Saturday were added. Redskins linebackers London Fletcher and Brian Orakpo, Panthers linebacker Jon Beason, and Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield will join the NFC for Sunday’s game.

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