Jay Cutler broke his media silence since the Chicago Bears quarterback left the NFC Championship Game with a sprained MCL, telling the Chicago Sun-Times he was bothered that some -- including fellow players -- questioned his toughness.
"I was gone, and I stayed away from it all," Cutler told the paper. "But I can't say it didn't bother me that people questioned my toughness and desire to play.
"I think I've been through a lot here in Chicago, and I would have loved to play."
Asked about fellow NFL players who criticized him, Cutler said: "They can think what they want."
Cutler sustained the injury -- later ruled a Grade II MCL sprain -- in the second quarter of the Bears' 21-14 loss to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game.
"To get to the point we were and the opportunity we had -- I'm frustrated just like everyone else," Cutler told the paper. "But there's nothing we can do about it now. We have to learn from it and overcome it this year."
"Those are the guys you are with a lot of the time," Cutler told the Sun-Times, "and those guys didn't flinch. I've got to thank them for that."
As for his knee, Cutler said that he hasn't tested it yet, but "I'm good. It's one of those things that heals on its own."
Despite taking a career-high 57 sacks (including nine against the Giants), Cutler became the first player in franchise history to throw for 3,000 yards (3,274) in back-to-back seasons, and also became the first to throw for 20 or more touchdowns in consecutive years.
At the owners meetings last month, Bears coach Lovie Smith said he has no problems with his quarterback.
"I like who Jay is," Smith said. "I'm so excited about him being our quarterback in years to come. I trust him. I know he's a tough guy. Think about it: As a coach, you see a quarterback take the amount of sacks he took in that Giants game and he kept coming. He's gonna lead us to a lot of wins."