Ben Margot / The Associated Press

Green Bay's Clay Matthews brings down the 49ers' Colin Kaepernick in the second quarter Sunday on a play that triggered a brief melee.

49ers' Harbaugh blasts Matthews for hit on Kaepernick

Published: Tuesday, Sep. 10, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Saturday, Sep. 14, 2013 - 12:22 am

SANTA CLARA – The fight lasted only a few seconds Sunday, but Jim Harbaugh still was swinging a day later.

The 49ers' coach not only made it clear Monday he thought Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews' second-quarter hit on Colin Kaepernick was a "cheap shot," he poked fun at the manner with which Matthews went after offensive tackle Joe Staley, who was locked up with Matthews during the brief melee on the sideline.

"Two punches thrown to Joe's head," Harbaugh said. "Well, one punch and one open slap, which, if you're going to go to the face, come with some knuckles, not an open slap. I think that young man works very hard at being a tough guy. He'll have some repairing to do to his image after the slap."

The NFL on Monday tried to clean up perhaps the messiest sequence of its opening weekend.

The play began when, on third and 6 deep in Green Bay territory, Kaepernick ran out of bounds 2 yards shy of a first down. Matthews' flying, out-of-bounds tackle led to a late-hit penalty and also a penalty to Staley, one of several 49ers who came to Kaepernick's aid.

The infractions offset, and the officials replayed third down, which resulted in a touchdown pass from Kaepernick to Anquan Boldin.

After the game, referee Bill Leavy said that because both penalties were dead-ball fouls, the next play should have been fourth and 2 instead of third and 6.

Monday, however, the league's vice president of officiating, Dean Blandino, said Staley, who threw no punches, should not have been penalized. If Matthews' penalty had been the only one, the 49ers would have had first and goal at the Green Bay 3-yard line.

Harbaugh said Matthews went out of his way to make contact with Kaepernick.

"You talk about launching," Harbaugh said. "You talk about a clothesline to the neck area when our quarterback's 6, 7 feet out of bounds."

Harbaugh said Matthews reminded him of 1950s-era defensive back Emlen Tunnell, a Pro Football Hall of Famer famous for his brutal – but at the time legal – clothesline hits.

"You all know who he is – No. 45 of the Giants," Harbaugh said. "Back when that was legal, he would stand there in the middle of the field waiting for receivers to cross and clothesline them. And their feet would fly in the air and their backs would hit the ground. I was struck: 'I'm seeing Emlen Tunell here.' "

Matthews likely will be fined by the NFL, and other 49ers and Packers could be, too.

Several punches were thrown during the sideline tussle. Two series later, 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks threw his shoulder into Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers, drawing a roughing-the-passer penalty.

Matthews' infraction stands out, however, because leading up to the game he spoke freely about the Packers' plan to hit Kaepernick when he ran the 49ers' read-option offense. Matthews said the intent was to put the quarterback in harm's way enough that the 49ers' coaches stopped calling those plays.

Last week, Harbaugh said Matthews' rhetoric was tantamount to "targeting," and he likened it to the New Orleans Saints' infamous bounty program.

Did Matthews' hit on Kaepernick reinforce Harbaugh's belief that Kaepernick is being hunted?

"Like I said last week, usually a man will tell you his intentions if you just listen," he said. "That certainly was a cheap shot. Launching, clothesline to the neck-head area. Bad play."

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Read Matthew Barrows' blogs and archives at and listen for his reports Tuesdays on ESPN Radio 1320. Follow him on Twitter @mattbarrows.

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