Were they acts of intimidation? Or just frustration?
The obvious one was the “tackle” of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick out of bounds in the second quarter; and I put quotation marks around the word “tackle” because it was very nearly a clothesline and was very clearly unnecessary. It was third and six deep in Packers territory, and Kaepernick had stepped out of bounds a yard short of the first down. Matthews needed to give him a push, if anything, and move on to the next play.
It’s quite possible there was a tie-breaking field goal attempt in the offing had Matthews not set off a scrum that (wrongly) resulted in the 49ers getting another crack at third down. The game was locked at 7-7 at that point, and the Packers had apparently held, setting up a fourth and 1 until the officials gave San Francisco a freebie.
On the do-over, Kaepernick found Anquan Boldin for an easy 10-yard touchdown, helping to seal the Packers’ fate. Instead, Matthews opted for what arguably was a cheap shot.
Later in the game, Matthews made an impressive play to sack Kaepernick for a seven-yard loss, after which Matthews got in the quarterback’s face and did a bit of “celebrating.” Kaepernick appeared to mostly laugh off Matthews’ antics, but this was at the end of the third quarter, the Packers desperately needed to force a field goal attempt rather than give up another touchdown, and Matthews had already gotten the officials’ attention with the hit out of bounds.
What if they flag Matthews for unsportsmanlike conduct for getting in Kaepernick’s face after that play? The score was tied at 21 at that point, and the Packers would ultimately hold the home team to a field goal, but that looked a terrible risk to take in such an important situation. Do your sack dance away from the quarterback per usual, but don’t get in the quarterback’s face.
And Kaepernick clearly wasn’t impressed anyway, delivering this gem of a quote after the game: “If intimidation is your game plan, I hope you have a better one.”
Now, that said, Matthews had an otherwise strong game, with seven solo tackles, the sack, two other tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. He was flying around the field like a madman the entire game, in typical Matthews fashion.
And Matthews did admit after the game that the hit on Kaepernick in the second quarter wasn’t his best moment.
“First off, it wasn’t a very smart play,” he told ESPN. “I’d already committed to hitting the quarterback. I guess I should’ve figured he was going to step out of bounds. But it’s nothing personal. I went up to him later and was joking around with him.”
Perhaps Matthews felt he had to follow up on what he said about getting some hits on Kaepernick during the lead-up to the game. Perhaps he really just was feeling the intensity – and the frustration of dealing with a team the Packers just can’t seem to beat – so strongly that his judgment lapsed a time or two.
The positive takeaway was that he certainly proved worth the contract extension he received during the off-season – at least from the standpoint of effort and intensity. But let’s hope he tones down the extra-curricular activity when the Packers take on the Washington Redskins this coming weekend.