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Bears’ Khalil Mack defends Packers’ Clay Matthews after game-changing flag

Clay Matthews was flagged for roughing the passer Sunday. | AP photo

Loyalty among defensive players makes for strange bedfellows. Consider this week, when Bears outside linebacker Khalil Mack stuck up for — of all people — Clay Matthews of the rival Packers.

‘‘You’re talking about the Clay Matthews play?’’ Mack said. ‘‘Those things are unfortunate.’’

With 1:37 left Sunday, Matthews was whistled for roughing the passer when he sacked Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins. Cousins’ pass was intercepted, and the Packers, leading 29-21, seemingly had clinched a victory. But the play came back because of the penalty, and the Vikings rallied to earn a 29-29 tie.

Referee Tony Corrente told pool reporters afterward that Matthews ‘‘lifted [Cousins] and drove him into the ground.’’ The flag, Corrente said, had nothing to do with the new NFL emphasis that players be penalized for landing on a quarterback with their full body weight.

‘‘You play this game at a high level, and . . . Clay, I know he plays it at a high level,’’ Mack said of Matthews, who also was flagged for a roughing-the-passer penalty on Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky in the fourth quarter in Week 1. ‘‘And he just wants to make that play for his team.

‘‘But even then, you’ve just gotta be smart in certain situations. But that play in particular is one that I feel the refs need to take a look at.’’

At a time when rules intended to make the sport safer grow more confusing by the day, Matthews’ flag has grabbed the attention of defensive players around the league. As it is, defenders already think that rules are made to protect the offense.

‘‘Your instinct is to make the right play,’’ Mack said. ‘‘I feel like [Matthews] did everything he could to make the right play, kept his head out of the way. I feel like that was a perfect-form tackle.’’


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Bears defensive end Akiem Hicks still is trying to figure out the body-weight rule. The NFL has decided to emphasize the part of the roughing-the-passer rule, in place since 1995, that defenders can’t land on a quarterback with their full body weight. Referees threw five flags in Week 1 as a result.

‘‘I think it’s a tough situation that it puts defensive linemen and outside linebackers in,’’ Hicks said Thursday. ‘‘That’s, like, our reward for getting there. That’s our reward for beating our offensive linemen, and that’s to drive the quarterback into the ground as hard as we want to.

‘‘I understand it’s a quarterback-driven league and you’ve gotta protect the guy that’s delivering the ball, but where’s our treat?’’

Coach Matt Nagy said officials ‘‘did a good job’’ of explaining the details when they visited the Bears during training camp in Bourbonnais. The officials showed videos of what to do — and of what not to do. When the Bears were flagged for the body-weight rule during the preseason, Nagy said officials detailed the reasons why.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said that the rules are clear and that the Bears typically follow them. They have only one defensive penalty this season — for five yards — after posting 33 for 320 yards in 2017. The 320 yards were the third-fewest in the NFL last season.

‘‘We don’t want penalties, so we try to school our players on what the rules are and how they’re called,’’ Fangio said. ‘‘I understand the rule is one thing, but knowing how each individual official is going to officiate it is another.

‘‘What one guy calls one week, if that same thing happens the next week, it may not be called. All the little individualities of the officials is the part that becomes concerning.’’