Is Clay Matthews a Dirty Player after Late Hit and Fight with 49ers?

Gary Davenport@@IDPSharksNFL AnalystSeptember 9, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - SEPTEMBER 08:  Clay Matthews #52 of the Green Bay Packes tackles Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers late out of bounds during the second quarter at Candlestick Park on September 8, 2013 in San Francisco, California. The late hit started a fight between Matthews and Joe Staley #74 of the 49ers (not pictured). (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

In the weeks leading up to the Green Bay Packers Week 1 matchup with the San Francisco 49ers, linebacker Clay Matthews told ESPN's Mike and Mike radio show that "you want to put hits as early and often on the quarterback."

Well, Matthews did just that on Sunday, and the result was a late hit out-of-bounds, a fight and a brouhaha that has spilled over into Monday.

The play that started this whole mess occurred in the beginning of the second quarter.

With the 49ers driving and facing a third down deep in Green Bay territory, quarterback Colin Kaepernick rolled from the pocket and took off. After gaining four yards, he headed out of bounds.

At that point he was tackled outside of the field of play by a flying Matthews, a flag was thrown, and all hell broke loose.

A fight ensued as offensive tackle Joe Staley went after Matthews. A few punches were thrown, Staley was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct, and order was restored.

Well, except for the fact that the officials blew the call and replayed the down. But that's another story for another day.

San Francisco head coach Jim Harbaugh didn't mince words regarding his displeasure with Matthews' actions, according to Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News.

Colin scrambles out of bounds and you get the personal foul, the play, the launching–you talk about launching, talk about a clothesline to the neck area when our quarterback’s six, seven feet out of bounds…

You know, like I said last week, usually a man will tell you his bad intentions if you just listen. That certainly was a cheap shot, launching, close-lining to the head, neck area.

OK, first off, it's clearly a late hit. Kaepernick was out of bounds.

However, "clothesline" is embellishing things a bit. So is six or seven feet out of bounds. Kaepernick was on the white boundary line when Matthews contacted him, and the last time I checked the line isn't six feet wide.

The play has caused many to throw around the accusation that Matthews is a dirty player. Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers came to Matthews' defense on Monday, according to Tyler Dunne of the Journal-Sentinel.

I don't believe that. Hey, Clay's an aggressive player that's going to play with a lot of emotion. I thought he played a good football game yesterday. You saw him coming on minus yardage plays. You saw him sack the quarterback. It was unfortunate, the sideline play. But I think he just misjudged where he was really. We have to make sure that doesn't happen.

Granted, the whole"misjudged where he was" defense ranks right up there with "six or seven feet out of bounds" on the accuracy meter, but Capers is on to something.

Simply put, there's a difference between ill-advised, stupid and dirty.

Leaving your feet to make a stop (especially near the sideline) is ill-advised. Committing a stupid penalty that allows a team to extend a drive is stupid.

Neither makes Clay Matthews a dirty player.

Harbaugh went on to take a potshot at Matthews' manhood for "slapping" Staley during their tussle.

I looked at it with my own eyes I could see two punches thrown to Joe’s head and well, one punch and one open slap…

Which… you know, that was just… if you’re going to go to the face, come with some knuckles, you know? Not an open slap.

I think that young man works very hard on being a tough guy. He’ll have some repairing to do to his image after the slap.

And there's the real reason for this whole dust-up.

The San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers are two teams with Super Bowl aspirations who have now met three times in about a year, including once in the playoffs.

There's a rivalry here, with the bad blood that goes with it. It's why Matthews was jawing last week, and why Harbaugh is jawing now.

Matthews got caught up in the moment and did something dumb.

We need to resist the urge to do the same.

Besides, a "dirty" hit would seem to indicate an intent to cause injury, and I don't know that Matthews had that in mind.

If a Green Bay player wants to hurt a quarterback they do this:

Now that's dirty.