Pro Bowl running back Maurice Jones-Drew says he never meant to take a shot at Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler or question his toughness.
The Jacksonville Jaguars star told The Associated Press on Monday that his tweet comparing Cutler to former Florida coach Urban Meyer was merely a joke — one that clearly backfired.
Jones-Drew said he was rooting for Cutler and the Bears in Sunday's NFC championship game, and when Cutler left in the third quarter, Jones-Drew thought it was the perfect time to poke fun at the Gators.
"Hey I think the urban meyer rule is effect right now... When the going gets tough........QUIT," Jones-Drew posted on his Twitter page.
Jones-Drew has received death threats and plenty of ill will from Bears' fans. The Bears also defended Cutler, who was diagnosed with sprained MCL on Monday.
Jones-Drew was caught off guard by the backlash.
"I never attacked him, called him soft or a sore loser," Jones-Drew in a telephone interview Monday. "I never questioned his toughness. I think people took my joke out of context. I was taking at shot at Florida fans."
Jones-Drew acknowledged that Cutler's injury — the Bears said he sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee — was serious enough to leave the game. But when Jones-Drew sent the tweet, he was unaware that anything was wrong with the quarterback.
"All I thought about was being in that position, being in that game," Jones-Drew said. "I've never been in a title game, so my first thought was why wouldn't you want to play in that situation."
Bears fans turned it on Jones-Drew, with many pointing out that he missed the final two games of the season even though the Jaguars were in the AFC postseason hunt. Others said they hope he blows out his knee this season.
Jones-Drew played all season with torn meniscus in his left knee, saying there were days when he would wake up and not be able to walk. He learned the severity of the injury during training camp — he basically had bone scraping against bone — but tried to keep it hidden because he didn't want opponents taking shots at his knee.
The injury became more painful after his sixth consecutive 100-yard game, but he still tried to play at Indianapolis on Dec. 19 — a game in which Jacksonville could have clinched the AFC South. After that, and with the team no longer in control of its destiny, Jones-Drew shut it down.
Cutler's defenders didn't seem to care on Twitter.
"I don't have a problem with people coming back at me," Jones-Drew said. "That interaction makes it fun. But some people took it too far by threatening my life. ... I'm not going to stop tweeting. I've never attacked anyone and never will."
Jones-Drew watched the game "as a fan with friends" and wanted Cutler to play well since he drafted him in a postseason fantasy football league. He later tweeted that "All I'm saying is that he can finish the game on a hurt knee... I played the whole season on one..."
"I threw out this joke and the backlash came in," Jones-Drew said. "I tried to make it right, but it backfired."
The Bears are still miffed by the tweets. Receiver Earl Bennett, Cutler's teammate at Vanderbilt, called the criticism "very unprofessional." Defensive tackle Anthony Adams labeled it "garbage" and "unfair."
"I expect them to stick up for Cutler," Jones-Drew said. "That's your teammate, that's how this league works. I hope they realize I don't have any hard feelings toward Cutler. I never questioned his toughness. It's not a matter of toughness. You have to be tough to play this game.
"I don't think anyone was questioning his toughness. Some guys were questioning his body language on the sideline at the end of the game. I wasn't even doing that. I was making a joke for the Florida fans and people took it out of context."