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Matthews: NFL 'getting soft' with roughing penalties

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For the second consecutive week, Clay Matthews was called for a controversial roughing the passer penalty.

The Green Bay Packers linebacker was flagged for a personal foul after sacking Washington Redskins quarterback Alex Smith late in the third quarter of Green Bay's 31-17 loss.

On second-and-7, Matthews blitzed Smith from the right side and reached the quarterback in less than three seconds, driving him to the turf for an apparent 11-yard loss. But referee Craig Wrolstad deemed the hit illegal and penalized the Packers 15 yards. The drive eventually ended in a punt.

"I had judged that the defender landed on the quarterback when he was tackling him with most or all of his body weight and that's not allowed. If you do that, it's roughing the passer," Wrolstad told the pool reporter after the game. "So that was basically my key, that he landed on him with most or all of his body weight and that was my ruling, roughing the passer.

"But if you've got a shoulder into him and then landed on him with most of his body weight off him or released him when he went down, then he would have been OK. But in my judgement, I ruled that he landed on him with most or all of his body weight there."

Safe to say, Matthews did not agree with the call.

"You see as soon as I hit the ground, you see me try to pull my hands up. Obviously when you're tackling a guy from the front, you're gonna land on him," Matthews told reporters. "I understand the spirit of the rule, I said it weeks prior. But when you have a hit like that, that's a football play. I even went up to Alex Smith after the game, asked him, 'What do you think? What can I do differently? Because that's a football play.'

"Of course, like I said last week, NFL's gonna come back, say I put my body on him, but that's a football play. I hit him from the front, got my head across, wrapped up. I've never heard of anybody tackling somebody without any hands. When he gives himself up as soon as you hit him, your body weight's going to go on him. I think we're looking for the hits that took Aaron [Rodgers] out last year, that little extra. If I wanted to hurt him, I could have. I could've put some extra on him. That's football."

As Matthews predicted, the league backed up the crew's ruling soon after.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy was irate on the sidelines after the call, berating line judge Carl Johnson and field judge Jeff Lamberth.

"In Clay's particular case, I thought Clay did exactly what he was supposed to do there," McCarthy told reporters after the game. "So how it's being officiated, those are questions for other people. He hit him with his shoulder. He's coming full speed off of the block. He braced himself. I was fine with what Clay did."

Matthews and the Packers are used to this kind of treatment. Last week against the Minnesota Vikings, Matthews was called for a similar roughing the passer penalty late in the fourth quarter after he drove Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins to the ground on what was supposed to be the game-sealing interception. The flag extended the drive, which ended in a game-tying touchdown pass from Cousins to Stefon Diggs.

The NFL announced last Monday that it would use Matthews' controversial roughing the passer penalty from Week 2 in a teaching video it distributes to clubs to emphasize that the "scoop-and-pull" tactic Matthews used when he hit Cousins is a foul.

"Unfortunately, this league is going in a direction I think a lot of people don't like. I think they're getting soft. The only thing hard about this league is the fines that they levy down on guys like me who play the games hard," Matthews summed up. "I don't know. I mean, I'm just going to keep playing hard.

"Maybe now, pass rushers, guys getting after the quarterback, you just have to attack the ball, which is -- I've been playing this game for over 20 years -- that's how you tackle. So we'll see. Something's got to change because the league's not."

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