The Vikings tied the Packers on Sunday in part because Kirk Cousins mounted an incredible eight-point drive late in the fourth quarter to force overtime. But Cousins was only allowed to finish that drive because Packers' outside linebacker Clay Matthews got flagged for roughing the passer, which wiped out an interception that would've sealed the Packers' win.
A week ago, Matthews admitted guilt for his late-game roughing penalty against the Bears. This time, Matthews won't do that. After the game, Matthews called it a "terrible call" and sounded off on the NFL for getting "out of control" with its "emphasis on protecting quarterbacks."
Here's what he said, via ESPN:
"I have so many emotions running through as far as what a terrible call it was," Matthews said. "At the same time, I don't know what else to do. I don't know. You let me know. You tell me. Did I put pressure on him? 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.
"Last week, OK, shame on me. This week, that's unbelievable. The worst part is, we'll probably send it in and you know what they're going to say? They'll find fault on me because they're going to agree with the refs. I don't know. It's a difficult call to call.
"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 [over], right? Instead, they go down and score, overtime, this and that.
"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. I don't know. I'm trying to bite my tongue, but I obviously don't agree with it."
According to referee Tony Corrente, the flag was thrown because Matthews "lifted him and drove him into the ground."
"It has nothing to do with the rule of full body weight," Corrente told ESPN. "It has nothing to do with helmet to helmet. He picked the quarterback up and drove him into the ground."
You be the judge. Did Matthews pick up and drive down Cousins?
By now, you probably know what happened next. After the officials gifted the Vikings a fresh set of downs, Cousins drove the Vikings downfield until he somehow fit an impossible touchdown pass in between two defenders to Adam Thielen and then completed the comeback with a fade to Stefon Diggs on the ensuing two-point conversion.
The Vikings got some help along the way, but those eight points were eventually earned:
What a game. #Skol pic.twitter.com/yQ9D0yZ8SW— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) September 16, 2018
The thing is, Matthews was right: The Packers had opportunities to win the game. After the Vikings tied the game, Aaron Rodgers set up Mason Crosby for a game-winning 52-yard field goal. Crosby drilled the kick, but a well-timed timeout by the Vikings negated the make. He missed on his next try, and the game headed to overtime, where the Vikings would miss two field goals. So in a way, Matthews is actually lucky that his penalty didn't lead to a Packers' loss.
As a result of the tie, the Vikings and Packers are now tied atop the NFC North with 1-0-1 records. But the bigger consequence of the game is that the roughing penalty has now become as heated of a debate as the catch rule. It's a problem that no one can watch a replay of a catch and figure out if the play will be ruled complete or incomplete. And it's a problem that no one can watch a defender hit a quarterback and determine if the hit violated the rules.
Protecting quarterbacks is important. No one wants to watch the DeShone Kizers and Trevor Siemians of the NFL replace the Aaron Rodgers and Kirk Cousins of the NFL. But no one wants to watch a football game thinking that a flag will be thrown every time a defender hits a quarterback.
"It's pretty difficult," Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said, per ESPN. "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."
It's not easy being a defender in the NFL right now. It's also not easy being an official.