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Clay Matthews: Quit or Benched?

Clay Matthews

Even a week later, Packer Nation continues to simmer over the loss in the NFC Championship game. That’s what happens when you suffer arguably the most painful loss in an over 90 year franchise history. What also happens is that guys who were nearly untouchable before the disaster are now open to criticism and doubt in a way they perhaps have never been before.

It also hurts that the tragic death of Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy’s brother, Joe McCarthy, has postponed any attempt for closure that many still desire. There are questions that people want answers to, but while the organization goes through the proper mourning period, those questions remain unanswered. The anger and frustration, the need for accountability or to place blame — let’s call it for what it is — remains and so, unfortunately, a likely ambivalent Mike McCarthy will find it all waiting for him when he returns to his post, whenever that is.

I would not blame him at all for wanting to say — “Screw you people.”

Would you?

But as difficult as it may be, McCarthy can not insulate himself and dismiss the need for answers and remain head coach of the Green Bay Packers. The realization that life and death and family are far more important than winning a football game probably allayed the anger of Packer Nation for around 20 seconds. After that, McCarthy’s misfortune, as tragic as it is for him and his family, makes no difference to the wave of emotion waiting to crash on his head and everyone at 1265 Lombardi Avenue.

Naturally, after McCarthy himself, the highest need for accountability comes from Aaron Rodgers and Clay Matthews, the highest paid players on both offense and defense, and the leaders of both units in the eyes of the fans.

Even though Rodgers himself did not play a good game, he remains somewhat untouchable for three reasons: 1) he played sub-standard ball, but it wasn’t Favre-against-the-Rams bad, 2) he was injured, and 3) he’s Aaron Effin Rodgers. He’s the best player on the team and the Packers have no shot at getting past an NFC Championship game in the near future without him. Therefore, what’s the point of blaming him?

On the other hand, about the only thing protecting Clay Matthews besides the financial commitment the Packers have made to him is the fact that he’s the best player on the defense. Take away that notion or worse yet, consider him an actual liability and Matthews becomes a prime target, especially vulnerable thanks to his SoCal image, injury history and hefty price tag.

To paraphrase a fool — “Clay has $66 million reasons to face criticism.”

The elephant in the room is the fact that Clay was not on the field for the most important part of the NFC Championship game — the final four minutes. In fact, Clay was not on the field from Morgan Burnett’s fateful interception onward, until OT. On that play, the Packers were in their nickel defense with Nick Perry and, unfortunately, Julius Peppers at the ends, and A.J. Hawk and Sam Barrington were the inside linebackers. Comically, Marshawn Lynch released into the left flat and Hawk got screened by the slot receiver, leaving Lynch wide open. If Wilson would have just dumped to him, he gains at least 15 yards.

Anyway, from that point forward in regulation, Clay Matthews could be seen on the sideline, wearing a stocking cap.

During the series before, Matthews chased down a scrambling Russell Wilson, tackling him after a 5-yard gain. It is possible that Matthews aggravated something, perhaps the mysterious “leg issue” on that play. However, not only did Matthews reenter the game in OT, but he appeared no worse for wear and fully mobile at that time. Plus, when asked about Clay’s status after the game, Mike McCarthy said he was unaware of any injury. Wouldn’t McCarthy know about it if Clay had been injured? And if so, why wouldn’t he just say so?

Lastly, Clay Matthews left Green Bay immediately to attend the Pro Bowl, in which he plans on playing. This all suggests that an injury had little to do with Matthews’ absence. Even if Matthews had just been “dinged up” a little bit, would he be playing in the Pro Bowl?

Besides the injury excuse, all that any of us have heard from Matthews is that he was essentially, “tired.” Okay. One can see how rushing the passer as an end and playing inside linebacker can tire a guy out, especially considering how the Packers defense spent the majority of the second half on the football field. However, how much rest does a guy need?

When the Seahawks took the field with 3:52 left in the game, the Packers responded with their dime package. It is conceivable that with the way Nick Perry was rushing the passer from the edge and how Barrington had played in coverage up until this point, that the Packers were fine with Clay resting during this drive. With the dime defense on the field, only one inside linebacker was needed. Plus, the Packers defense — coaching staff and players alike — appeared to feel that the game was over at this point anyway. After all, it didn’t even matter if the Seahawks scored on that drive, just as long as it took them past the two-minute warning to do it. As long as that occurred, then the Packers special teams would win the game by simply recovering the onside kick.

All that being said, after four plays, the Seahawks had 1st and 10 at the Packers’ 9. A lengthy review of Lynch’s catch to get down there, provided an extra couple minutes of rest for Clay. The timeout also gave the Packers plenty of time to change their defense and put their best unit out there. Wasn’t the defensive theme all year, “It’s not the package, but the players?” The idea being that the Packers would get their best defensive players on the field as much as they could.

Well, with the Seahawks at the Packers’ 9 and the Packers four downs from the Super Bowl, wouldn’t either having Matthews on the edge or in the middle with Barrington have made the most sense? Wouldn’t that have given the defense their best chance at getting a stop and winning the game?

Wasn’t the time from the seven-minute mark where the Packers had the ball at their own 13 to Seattle’s 1st and goal after the Lynch review enough rest for a pro athlete to fully recuperate? I have not checked the game film to see exactly how much real time that covers, but I would estimate it was somewhere between 20 to 30 minutes of real-time rest. Clay Matthews, apparently not restricted by injury, was not rested enough after at least a 20-minute break on the sideline??

Remember that on the all important 3rd and goal from the 1, it was Mike Neal that the Seahawks ran the read option against. If you are the Packers, wouldn’t you prefer that had been the man you are paying $13 million a year? We will never know if Matthews, unlike Neal, could have responded to the fake quick enough to tackle Wilson in the backfield. If he had, the Seahawks would have faced 4th and ballgame from the 4- or 5-yard line. Yeah, we would have loved to see that scenario. Unfortunately, it remains only a fantasy in my head.

So Seattle scored. Big deal. They still needed another touchdown to take the lead.

But then the onside kick happened and the Seahawks took the field with an opportunity to do just that. Even if you took the last drive lightly, it was IMPOSSIBLE to do the same here. After all, the Seahawks take the lead if they score. The Packers put their nickel on the field. Amazingly, that defense included Nick Perry at end and A.J. Hawk with Barrington in the middle. The Packers know the drop-off between Hawk and Matthews and yet, it was apparently acceptable to all involved that Matthews remain on the sideline.

Injured? Matthews would take the field on the following possession and look fine. Tired? After not being on the field for around 30 minutes? I don’t think so.

Let’s just get this out of the way. If the real excuse IS that he was tired, then that is the same as quitting. There is no way that a pro athlete is still too exhausted to play after nearly 30 minutes of rest. Wasn’t Sam Barrington tired? That poor guy NEVER got a rest! And we’ll leave the contrast with the Seahawks for another story. Earl Thomas had a dislocated shoulder and was playing. Richard Sherman had a sprained elbow and never missed a down.

And let’s just put this possibility out there too. Is it possible Matthews was benched at some point? Seems unlikely, but how can we eliminate it? Maybe Matthews was unhappy with being asked to cover in the dime instead of rushing the passer on 3rd and 19, a down that happened because Matthews got a sack rushing off the edge. Maybe that’s why he immediately hit a receiver in the head and collected a penalty. Maybe he was unhappy with the offense giving the ball right back to the Seahawks twice in the last seven minutes. Maybe he let someone know about it. Maybe he didn’t agree with Morgan Burnett and Julius Peppers, the two guys elected defensive captains instead of him and their decision to concede on the interception return with five minutes left. Maybe he had something to say about it. Maybe he thought that if everyone else on the defense had quit, then no sense in him being out there.

That’s a lot of conjecture, but conjecture is what we have when there is nothing to replace it with. And we have nothing else because the only answers we’ve been given don’t make any sense. One thing I do know for sure is that if Clay had been benched for any portion of the game, NO ONE would tell us, which would explain the lack of straight answers for his absence.

WHATEVER happened during the fateful final minutes of that game, it has seriously dented Matthews’ reputation with Packer Nation, and no answers will only continue to make it worse.

The fact that Matthews missed the entire playoff game against San Francisco last season with an injury plays a big role and the fact that Matthews was not selected as a defensive captain also adds fuel to the fire. Is this the reason? Is Matthews a ME guy and his teammates know that?

I am not an anti-CM3 guy and I am a long way from ever giving up on the guy. The Packers would be looking at $12.3 million in dead money next season if he is not on the roster. That is FAR too much money to willingly part with. Secondly, if we can get the guy to be willing to play middle linebacker, then Clay would be immensely valuable to this team. The turnaround after the bye and this game proved that. What happened to the defense after Matthews left the field in this game proved that.

Matthews is still capable of being one of the best OLBs in the game if he would just make some small, mostly mental, improvements on run defense. Julius Peppers is unlikely to be around longer than one more season. Either way, the Packers can use Clay Matthews, but need this guy to have his head on straight. Does he want to win another Super Bowl or doesn’t he? That is pretty much the crux of the issue.

As a franchise quarterback, Aaron Rodgers is judged not on the regular season, but on the postseason, the big games. Maybe Rodgers hasn’t been as good as 2010 in the big games. Maybe that will be part of his legacy and we’ll have to live with that.

Well, Clay Matthews has barely shown up in the big games and only the one who necessarily has to live with that is Matthews. He said it himself — “You don’t have to wear a C on your chest to be a leader of this team.”

But you do have to be on the football field.

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Shawn

Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.

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30 Comments

  1. Howard January 25, 2015

    Clay being at the Pro bowl tells me all I need to know. He was not injured. All that continues to run through my mind from the time I watched Clay on the sideline till now is Ray Nitscke limping toward the endzone with an intercepted pass. Matthews is no Nitscke that is for sure!

    I know it is impossible to trade Matthews at this point, however with out a more complete explanation I feel as though Matthews quit. I hate quitters. That is the reason when most wanted Lyerla from Oregon on the team I hated the move. The asshole quit on his team. Once a quitter always a quitter.

    Matthews needs to explain his actions directly to the media and fans soon. Maybe Matthews has a good excuse, at this time all I can believe is he quit! If he did quit trade him as soon as possible.

  2. Vijay January 25, 2015

    It’s more simple than you think. The coaches decided to sub him for the rest of the game because everyone, players and coaches, were celebrating a return to a Super Bowl after that Burnett INT. You could see the party on our sidelines. The Packers knew they had the game in hand so they were comfortable subbing their star LB for the last few minutes of the game and letting the rotation handle finishing off the game. What’s the big mystery? They had the game in hand and punched their tickets so why risk an injury to Clay before the big game?

    Problem is, they forgot who they were playing in that moment (Seahawks come back from a deficit 86% of the time) and they made an atrocious mistake in assuming the Seahawks would simply pack it in. These Seahawks are not the Packers that’s for sure. No quit and no surrender in that locker room.

    Case closed.

    1. Skinny January 25, 2015

      There is something to that for sure. Plus there’s this whole thing McCarthy started doing with having pitch counts on players. Guys cant play over a certain number of snaps according to this chart McCarthy uses. Bill Michaels ranted about this last Monday on his radio show, its like football saber metrics, it works in keeping guys fresh, yes, but you don’t start referring to a fucking chart to see who needs a break when a super bowl appearance is on the line which is what Michaels was pissed about.

    2. Howard January 25, 2015

      Vijay: Agree wrote similar comments in Stream of consciousness (comment 12), and hawks got away with two uncalled penalties (comment 23). The Packers showed how situationally unaware they are at critical times in games, and that goes on veteran players and coaches both. It still does not give Matthews an excuse for not forcing himself onto the field at least on the last series of the fourth quarter. Look at Sherman and Thomas. They were injured and they willed theirselves onto the field. That is what great players do, force their will on the field of play!

    3. Shawn Neuser January 25, 2015

      VJ, I alluded to the fact that the second to last series in regulation was probably deemed unimportant and that the feeling the game was over might have had a lot to do with why Matthews wasn’t on the field.
      However, that does nothing to explain the final drive, after the onside kick recovery, where a TD would give Seattle the lead. Obviously, at that point, the game is NOT over, and the Seahawks were 50 yards away from winning the game and going to the Super Bowl. Why wouldn’t Matthews grab his helmet and take the field at that point, certainly not awaiting permission to do so?
      There is more going on than simply thinking the game was over.

  3. rebelgb January 25, 2015

    Clay Matthews made a statement to the Packers: Im not playing inside linebacker next year.

    Sad really.

  4. Richard January 25, 2015

    Yep, this is just another from the many chapters of Mike McCarthy’s Situational Unawareness handbook. His idiocy just trickles down to everyone else. The only bright side of this, as if there can possibly be one, is that the shame and embarrassment of resting Matthews for the next game will never be overcome by these morons unless they get another ring.

  5. Savage57 January 25, 2015

    Pretty easy to see he quit early, after it was apparent that the Packers had this game won and was saving himself for the upcoming game, hence his appearance at the pro bowl.

    TT and MM ought to sit these guys down and walk through a flow chart about how all the jing, fame and endorsements came AFTER they proved to be bad-asses on the field, not before.

    1. rebelgb January 25, 2015

      Word!

  6. john reasonover January 25, 2015

    Greenbay needs to use the seattle loss film as a motivational tool to motivate the team before each game ,a blessing in disguise.

    1. pf4l January 25, 2015

      Really? You want the players to watch that shit show every week for motivation?

      How about a few heads roll..(Giving the impression someone in the building gives a fuck)..Maybe a coach or 2 being replaced, or a player or 2 cut or traded, might have a better motivational effect than reliving that fucking nightmare every week.

  7. pf4l January 25, 2015

    Here’s how this works….

    Green Bay coaches, players, felt they had this game in the bag, most of them relaxed. That coupled with a 1 or 2 bonehead plays, may be hazardous to winning a NFL NFCCG game.

    I hate to say it as a Packer fan, but the Green Bay Packers got exactly what they deserved. I just wish someone from the team would tell it like it is and admit what happened. We know McCarthy won’t be a stand up guy and do that.

    As a matter of fact..Watching McCarthys presser after the game, he seemed to act like this was just a regular season loss. It would be refreshing if someone from this team actually got pissed off over this. I still wear my Packers garb out, but to be honest, i don’t feel like i’m 100% prideful about it after that debacle. I thought it was embarrassing to give up over 500 yards in other playoff losses. This is a new low.

    1. steve January 29, 2015

      I agree 100%.

  8. haphal January 25, 2015

    Watching Matthews having a great time at the ProBowl speaks volumes. He’s at the sidelines with no apparent problem. At the interview, Matthews is not once asked what the heck happened and when McCarthy is asked, he just acts annoyed. You cannot tell me Matthews didn’t think he was going for another SB so lolled away the last few minutes. He’s turned into a big brand NFL player with a giant ego. And I could care less if this was his behavior if he was playing the game.

  9. pf4l January 25, 2015

    As far as Clay Mathews, i wouldn’t shed a tear if he was traded tomorrow, I want players who come to play. it’s one thing, to lose on the field of battle with your teammates, it’s another thing to sit on the sidelines playing with your hair as your team misses out on going to the Super Bowl.

  10. Andrew Chitko January 25, 2015

    Clay was in the game in the last few minutes of the Pro Bowl. He even played quite a bit of special teams tonight, too. Re-post and share this article. If there’s any justice one of the local hacks will sack up and demand some answers on what really went down.

  11. john smith January 25, 2015

    I don’t think people understand how things work. Players just don’t bench themselves. They GET bench, by the coaches.

    1. pf4l January 25, 2015

      Players take themselves out all the time, whether for injury, for rest, or whatever Clay Mathews went out for.

  12. Rich January 26, 2015

    Simply out coached in the last 5 min…Capers needs to go..he can’t adjust S.F game was the example years back.

  13. SA Packerfan January 26, 2015

    Never invoke a conspiracy when incompetence is the most likely cause. CM most likely was not on the field cause he was not told to be on the field. The entire team and staff were sitting around watching everyone else waiting for someone to turn on the panic lights and no one did. It is the one thing I will never understand is why they sat on a ship that was on fire and going down and didn’t do anything to change the situation. It is like they never saw it coming. If you cannot project a few chess moves ahead in a game you are doomed to have catastrophic failures. That is the real question for McCarthy, Rodgers, CM on down.

    1. rebelgb January 26, 2015

      Excellent points my friend.

    2. pf4l January 26, 2015

      Unless someone speaks up about it, as to why Clay wasn’t in the game, people will speculate that he quit. The longer it goes left unspoken, the worse it looks, and it looks bad, anyway you slice it.

      If Clay didn’t take himself out, then who did? Did MM or DC take him out? Did Winston Moss take him out?

      My feeling is, there will be no answer provided by MM, because, quite simply. you “don’t” question Mike McCarthy, on anything of a negative nature.

      I have a feeling, if Kevin Green was still LB’s coach, Clay would have been in that game.

      1. MMTTDCSUCK January 28, 2015

        That is why MM should exit Green Bay. Horrible game manager, horrible play calling and no trick plays against an over aggressive Seattle team? This guy is sooooooooooooo over-rated. Definitely not the worst coach in the NFL, just way over-rated.

  14. Howard January 26, 2015

    Agree totally. Kevin Green would have never let Matthews sit. In addition I believe Green would have been the right person to knock some sense into all the celebrants after the Morgan flop.

    1. pf4l January 26, 2015

      I’ll go one further, i don’t know this for fact, but i’d be willing to bet, Kevin Greene wouldn’t have let those players celebrate 5 min before the game was over. i think he would have wrapped up the intensity. The opposite of what actually happened.

      I don’t know why Greene left the Packers. No, i don’t buy the (i want to spend more time with my family Company line.) My uneducated guess is either he wanted a real mlb that could play and didn’t get one, or he didn’t see eye to eye with Capers about the defense.

      1. SA Packerfan January 26, 2015

        I am sure it was problems with Capers cause the D was suffering at the time and Capers and McCarthy were glacially changing things. That is not Greene’s style. Hmmmmmm…..glacial….that is a good word for how fast the change was in the most tragic 5 minutes of football of all time and how the Pack changes from year to year.

  15. chepo January 26, 2015

    This is wHere the bookies come in I believe these ges can be rigged.

  16. Salazar January 27, 2015

    Saying the game was rigged is just denial. An entire team of players and coaches already making big money (and standing to make a lot more with a SB win) would have to be in on it, and that’s just not plausible.

    1. Richard January 27, 2015

      Agreed. Admitting the game was rigged would be a much easier explanation than admitting this team had championship talent but unfortunately were just scared, spineless, gutless, unmotivated quitters.

  17. steve January 29, 2015

    The clay matthews disappearance is just another bizarre aspect of this game. I agree with others on this discussion in that he was probably taken out of the game as a precaution and for defensive reasons. In other words, he didn’t quit. But wouldn’t McCarthy know that? One has to wonder that he did as his answer seemed to indicate he didn’t really know why he wasn’t in the game. Matthews has played hurt in the past so he’s never quit on the team before. I think it was probably a coaching decision. That being said, the whole team quit in a sense. They would have gotten away with it if they recovered the onside kick, but even at that point I was still upset. Why even let it get to that point? They were playing the seahawks tight all game long with their normal defense. As soon as they went soft, seattle scored. I have seen enough sports to know that that is a terrible idea. I don’t know why but some coaches continue to go that route. That was the longest last 5 minutes ever in a football game. The packers shut down their offense and played weak defense allowing seattle right back into the game.