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Shutdown Corner

Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, and the ethics of sideline tantrums

Rodgers was distressed by Cutler's insistence that they thumb-wrestle for command of the NFC North. (AP)

The Green Bay Packers' 23-10 whitewash of the Chicago Bears last Thursday night was relatively uninteresting from a competitive perspective, but it certainly brought up some discussion points. Specifically, when a teammate screws up on the field at a crucial time, how does a team leader handle it? Football is a highly competitive and emotional game, and people will do and say things they later regret in the heat of the action.

At least, some people will regret them. Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who was just as responsible for his seven-sack, four-interception performance as anyone blocking for him or catching his passes, famously yelled at left tackle J'Marcus Webb and gave Webb a shove as the two players headed to the sideline following yet another unsuccessful drive. After insisting that he only did what he did because he cared about the game, Cutler backed off a bit on his weekly radio show:

''I probably shouldn't have bumped him. I'll go with that. As far as me yelling at him and trying to get him going in the game, I don't regret that. I shouldn't have bumped him. I'll stick to that.''

Of course, this is Jay Cutler we're talking about, and he couldn't leave well enough alone without giving the media a shove:

''I've talked about it with the powers that be, I talked about it with the offensive line — each of them individually — and it is what it is. It's been blown up probably a little bit bigger than any of us expected, but that's what you have to expect out of the media.''

Yep -- it's the media's fault that Jay Cutler can't keep it together on the field or on the sideline. It's the media's fault that Cutler slammed the ball to the ground and started barking at everyone within earshot after the Bears were flagged with a delay of game penalty. It's the media's fault that Jay Cutler talked trash to Green Bay's cornerbacks before the game and then got his lunch money taken away.

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It's the media's fault that Jay Cutler appears to be a bit of a jackass.

Sure, Jay. If that's the narrative you want, we'll roll with that.

The other marquee quarterback in that game, Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, seems to have a better sense of how to deal with those things that happen when the metaphorical bullets are flying. Rodgers went off on receiver James Jones in that win over the Bears when Jones ran the wrong route in the fourth quarter, leading to an interception. Upon reflection, Rodgers -- who has been far more successful in the stat sheets and the won-loss columns than Cutler through his career -- took a step back and realized, publicly, that he may have taken things a bit too far.

From Rodgers, on his weekly radio show:

"That was something I apologized for because I never want to show up a guy on the field like that. And I also had to thank James for the way that he addressed it as well. I always appreciate support from [my] guys. James has been a great receiver for us for a long time and we've played a number of years together, spent time throwing in the offseason, so I have a lot of faith and trust in him. He's a guy who's going to have to play a lot of snaps for us, and we're counting on him and expecting him to make big plays for us.

"It's the competitor coming out, which is not an excuse for it. When it's on national TV like that — [I] know every game is in some market — but when you're playing Thursday night … it's not something I enjoy doing. There are times where it definitely comes back the other way [from receivers to the quarterback], and you know how that feels and almost to a man, there's always a moment of apology, and getting back on the same page, and realizing that as frustrating as a moment can be, the emotion shown is never really worth it."

Jones brushed the incident aside, perhaps understanding that the character of his quarterback won't be affected by one unusual incident.

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"Yeah, we talked," Jones said. "He apologized, said he's sorry for showing his emotions. But I was like, 'Ain't no need to apologize. We're trying to win. I messed up. Frustration happens,' It's all good. No love lost. We're teammates. We're family in here. Like I said, everybody is trying to win.'

Rodgers, who has become friends with fellow Bay Area native Tom Brady, has discussed the matter with the New England star quarterback.

"Tom's a fiery competitor who, just like myself, we love to play the game, and the emotion comes out at different times," Rodgers said. "It's part of the game. You never want to make someone look bad out there by showing them up too much."

In the end, the thing that differentiated Rodgers from Cutler is the lesson that Rodgers took away from his own "incident." He said that what happened a week ago reminded him that he "enjoyed getting the chance to talk about ways to be a better professional."

Agent Blake Baratz, who represents Packers tight end Jermichael Finley and linebacker Desmond Bishop, went so far as to question Rodgers' leadership qualities, which makes one wonder where Baratz was when Rodgers was resisting the temptation to go thermonuclear every time Finley drops an easy pass.

Jones was not impressed by the idea.

"For people to question his leadership is ridiculous," Jones said. "He's a natural-born leader, not just by what he says, but how he carries himself, how he plays the game, how he handles certain situations. Everybody in this locker room looks up to him as a leader. Everybody in this locker room believes in him."

In Green Bay, that appears to be standard operating procedure. In Chicago, it might be quite a novel concept.

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