Packers notebook: Controversial roughing-the-passer penalty leaves Clay Matthews at a loss for words
GREEN BAY — Clay Matthews wasn’t sure what to say, and wasn’t sure what to do.
Unlike seven days earlier, when his late roughing-the-passer penalty nearly wrecked the Green Bay Packers’ miraculous come-from-behind victory over the Chicago Bears, this time, Matthews’ penalty had cost the Packers a victory – leading instead to a 29-29 tie with the Minnesota Vikings. And also unlike that hit on the Bears’ Mitch Trubisky, which Matthews immediately fessed up to being a boneheaded mistake, this time, he felt referee Tony Corrente had blown the call.
“You know, OK, the one last week was late. That’s shame on me. A 10-year vet shouldn’t get those kind of penalties,” Matthews said after his penalty for hitting Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins wiped out a Jaire Alexander interception and allowed the Vikings to tie the game in the final minute. “For it to happen again, if you aren’t being biased, I think it was a legal hit. You can’t help but think if you didn’t have that call, how does this game go? At the same time, you’re bewildered as far as what to think, what to do, how to feel. That’s frustrating, no doubt about it.”
The play came with the Packers leading, 29-21, with 1 minute 37 seconds left in regulation, Matthews beat backup right tackle Brian O’Neill inside and came untouched toward Cousins. As Cousins chucked the ball deep downfield, Matthews wrapped his right arm around Cousins’ waist, driving his shoulder into his midsection and taking him to the ground. The ball sailed over receiver Stacy Coley’s head and was intercepted by Alexander – a play that should have sealed the Packers’ victory.
Instead, Cousins would throw a 22-yard touchdown pass to Adam Thielen with 31 seconds left, then hit Stefon Diggs on the ensuing 2-point conversion to force overtime.
Corrente said after the game that Matthews was flagged because he “lifted him and drove him into the ground. … It has nothing to do with the rule of full body weight. It has nothing to do with helmet-to-helmet. He picked the quarterback up and drove him into the ground.”
Asked by a pool reporter what Matthews could have done differently, Corrente replied, “Not picked him up and drove him into the ground.”
Replays seemed to show that Matthews did not in fact pick Cousins up.
“I don’t even know where to start, to be completely honest with you. I have so many emotions running through as far as what a terrible call it was,” Matthews said. “I thought I hit him within his waist to chest, I got my head across, put my hands down. To call it at that point in the game is unbelievable.
“You see how it changed the game. I know there’s an emphasis on protecting quarterbacks, but it’s gotten out of control. I don’t know what else to do. It’s frustrating because Jaire’s interception, that’s game, right? Instead, they go down and score – overtime. We had opportunities to win the game, no doubt about it, but frustrating to allow a call which I feel like I did the right thing to influence the game.”
Added wide receiver Davante Adams: “The reffing today, I’m not one to even go there, especially in front of the cameras, but it was questionable all game. It was lopsided completely. … It was terrible.”
Even the Vikings acknowledged the call on Matthews was questionable, with Cousins calling it “one of those plays that isn’t flagged a couple of years ago” and coach Mike Zimmer, a former defensive coordinator, lamenting how hard it is for defensive players to hit quarterbacks now.
“It’s pretty difficult,” Zimmer said. “You’ve got a target area the size of a strike zone and then you can’t fall on top of them, and then you can’t hit them in the knees, and you can’t hit them low and you can’t hit them in the head. So you have to hit them in the strike zone. And then, you can’t fall on them. What do you want us to do? Hit them with our shoulder and not fall on them?
“I know that’s the highest (frequency) penalty being called, is roughing the passer. Hopefully they figure this thing out.”
Kicker Mason Crosby went from having the greatest game of his career – making his first five field-goal attempts, then making an apparent 52-yard game-winner – to the disappointment of missing a potential game-winner as time expired.
Crosby hit from 37, 40, 31, 48 and 36 yards, then made the 52-yarder that would have won the game – except Zimmer got a timeout called just before long-snapper Hunter Bradley sent the ball back to holder JK Scott, so the kick didn’t count. After the timeout, Crosby lined up again, and missed wide left.
“Obviously, went from being my best regular-season game to just a little bummed about that (last) kick,” said Crosby, who still tied a single-game career high with five made field goals. “We’ve got to knock that through to help this team win. Unfortunately (I) had a great game leading up to that. Just wasn’t able to execute that final one.”
Wide receiver Geronimo Allison got the Packers off to a terrific start when he came through the line and blocked punter Matt Wile’s punt and rookie cornerback Josh Jackson caught the deflection for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
“We schemed up some things we seen and kind of knew what plan of attack and it worked out well. They did what we thought they’d do,” Allison said. “We feel like special teams have got to make an impact. Our presence must be felt in every game.”
After safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix’s interception with 2:05 left in regulation gave the Packers the ball at Minnesota’s 13-yard line, coach Mike McCarthy decided to go for the knockout. After running back Jamaal Williams failed to gain a yard on first down, McCarthy called a pass. And had Adams and quarterback Aaron Rodgers connected on their second-down pass in the end zone – where Rodgers squeezed the ball into Adams between linebacker Eric Kendricks and safety Harrison Smith – the Packers would have had 33-21 lead.
Instead, Kendricks got the ball out to force an incompletion, and after a delay-of-game penalty, Rodgers couldn’t connect with Adams on third-and-15. The Packers settled for a field goal, and the passes allowed the Vikings to save their remaining two timeouts.
“We felt we needed to score,” McCarthy said when asked what his thought process was. “That’s the decision we needed to make at that point. We weren’t going to play for the field goal. We felt we needed to score.”
Patrick shows his moves
Lost in the disappointing tie was offensive lineman Lucas Patrick’s kickoff return after the Vikings pulled to within 23-21 on a 75-yard Cousins-to-Diggs touchdown pass against veteran cornerback Davon House, who was forced to play after Kevin King sustained a groin injury and did not return.
Hoping to catch the Packers unaware, Zimmer called for a short kick that Patrick fielded at his own 23. He caught the ball cleanly, then took it upfield – with both arms around the ball – for an 8-yard gain. The drive ended in a field goal that made it 26-21.
“I’m just trying to be productive wherever they put me on the field. Doing the special teams ball drills at the end of practice paid off,” Patrick said. “At the end of the day, you want to win, obviously. But taking that and not turning it into a negative, getting the offense driving and getting my job done on that, I’m happy with that. But it would have been nicer if it’d been an 80-yard return.”
Inside linebacker Blake Martinez, the defense’s play-caller, said the helmet radio system that connects him to defensive coordinator Mike Pettine in the coaches’ box short-circuited just before kickoff and went out intermittently during the game.
“It was weird. Right at the beginning of the game, normally we have a good check right before the game to make sure it’s good, and it wasn’t working,” Martinez said. “And then all of a sudden right as everything was about to start, it had this little ‘ding-ding-ding,’ like this turning-on sound. And I was like, ‘What the heck?’
“As the game went on, there were random moments where it was staticky and it turned off another moment and I had to call on the fly.”