Pete Dougherty, Tom Silverstein and Aaron Nagler break down the Packers' win in Dallas. (Oct. 8, 2017)
GREEN BAY - A day after being called for an unnecessary roughness penalty that gave the Dallas Cowboys new life on their opening possession, Green Bay Packers inside linebacker Blake Martinez still was confused.
Martinez dove, attempting to force an incomplete pass against Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant in the end zone Sunday. His right forearm inadvertently hit Bryant’s helmet, but no other part of Martinez’ body contacted the Cowboys receiver’s head.
Quarterback Dak Prescott’s pass to Bryant was incomplete on third-and-goal from the 5-yard line, but the penalty gave the Cowboys a first down at the 2. Prescott completed a touchdown pass to receiver Cole Beasley one play later.
The Packers eventually won the game 35-31, but Martinez still wasn’t happy at his locker inside Lambeau Field almost 24 hours later.
“I didn’t understand it whatsoever,” Martinez said. “I was making a football play, trying to get the ball out of a receiver’s hands. I didn’t even touch him besides my hand hitting him, and if anything else I just obviously landed on top of him, because that happens in football. If that’s a flag, then it would be on every single play.
“In all honesty, if that’s unsportsmanlike conduct or a forcible hit, then every hit is a forcible hit. A player is making a play on a guy trying to catch the ball, and I went to punch the ball out. I had no intent of doing anything else. It’s kind of just a tough play.”
Martinez was not alone in thinking it was a cheap penalty. On the Fox broadcast, color analyst Troy Aikman said he didn’t see much to warrant a penalty. Mike Pereira, the former NFL head of officials who now analyzes officiating for Fox, said the contact was not forcible and thus should not have drawn a flag.
Coach Mike McCarthy defended Martinez’ hit Monday.
“I didn’t see that as a penalty,” McCarthy said.
Martinez didn’t think it was a penalty in real time, and he said video replay only confirmed how he felt. He watched the play Monday inside a film room at Lambeau Field, and exited still shaking his head.
“Obviously the game is changing throughout, safety stuff,” Martinez said. “Whether it’s rules, safety, anything, you have to kind of adapt to the game, and for the most part I’m understanding to that. But at some point, you’ve got to see that, hey, we’re not playing flag football out here.
“When is it going to get the point where we’re going to have little belts around our waist, and we have to pull a flag instead of tackling a guy?”
There was another play Martinez watched on film Monday, this one on the Cowboys’ ensuing defensive series.
Near the right sideline, linebacker Anthony Hitchens hit Packers receiver Randall Cobb at the 37-yard line. Cobb was still in bounds, but Hitchens lowered his head to and led with the crown of his helmet. Though it did not appear Hitchens contacted Cobb’s helmet, Martinez wondered why the Cowboys linebacker wasn’t penalized for leading with his head.
“Say you get a holding penalty on our offense,” Martinez said, “and then the next series they hold us and they don’t get a flag. That’s a point where you kind of, I don’t know, you get mad, you get frustrated because you see it and say, ‘Hey, if you’re going to call a game that way, call it 100 percent that way. Don’t kind of just flip flop.’
“Obviously, there’s moments everyone makes mistakes. No one is perfect, and you don’t see certain things. But if it’s blatant, and 90 percent of the stadium saw it, you should be able to see it if that’s your profession. So that’s what I think.”
Martinez did not allow the early penalty to prevent him from having a good game. In 70 snaps, he led the Packers with 12 tackles and a half sack. He also deflected one pass.
With the Packers using more of their "nitro" package with a safety playing inside linebacker in nickel, Martinez has ascended the inside linebacker depth chart. He led the position in snaps each of the past three games and almost never left the field Sunday.
McCarthy said he has been impressed with the “impact plays” Martinez has given his defense.
“He's playing faster, clearly, than what he was last year,” McCarthy said. “Had a couple missed tackles. Other than that, I thought he played really well.”