'Team 93' establishing a tone of its own

Packers' defense goes down swinging

The Associated Press 49ers tackle Joe Staley (74) locks up with Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews (52) after Matthews shoved quarterback Colin Kaepernick to the ground out of bounds Sunday at Candlestick Park in San Francisco.

It wasn’t a smart play. The result wasn’t good for the Packers.

Still, when Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews dove onto San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick out of bounds in Sunday’s loss, it reflected something deeper about “Team 93,” as this, the 93rd team in Packers’ history, has started to call itself.

Matthews took Kaepernick to the ground and was rightly flagged. After talk all week about hitting the quarterback, Kaepernick’s teammates responded and a melee ensued, including a scuffle between Matthews and 49ers tackle Joe Staley.

A day later, 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh ripped Matthews.

“If you’re going to go to the face, come with some knuckles, not an open slap,” Harbaugh said. “That young man works very hard on being a tough guy. He’ll have some repairing to do to his image after the slap.”

Those comments prompted McCarthy to defend his player, saying Matthew’s made a bad decision, but too much was being made of the incident.

“I think it’s football,” McCarthy said. “I think much is blown out of proportion. Clay played very well in the game. That was probably one of his couple of bad plays.”

McCarthy went on to say that Matthews was not a dirty player and Harbaugh’s comments were discussed during a team meeting Monday.

Dirty or not, the play reflected something in the makeup of this Packers defense. This defense, after being the weak link a season ago and being labeled “soft” by some, is looking to prove it is tough and can intimidate.

The emotions of defensive players are closer to the surface than in the last few years. The defense wants to play with an edge, hitting hard and making offenses hesitate.

That mindset might have played a role in Matthews’ hit, and certainly did on the rest of his plays, including a sack of Kaepernick.

“I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t take it back. He finished a play,” defensive back Jarrett Bush said. “That’s what we call fight.”

There is some evidence it got Kaepernick’s attention, even if the quarterback brushed off any intimidation after the game. On one of his few scrambles, the quarterback, who destroyed the Packers’ defense running with abandon in last year’s playoff game, slid almost 10 yards between him and Matthews, who was charging to make the tackle.

That is the identity Team 93 has chosen.

Unlike a year ago, the 49ers now know the Packers’ defense may go down, but it’s going down swinging.