Matthews finished with two sacks and the game-saving stop of Michael Vick on a fourth-and-1 keeper with 2 minutes remaining as the Green Bay Packers escaped the Philadelphia Eagles 27-20 in Sunday's season opener.
The Packers' offense, which had been rolling with two field goals and three touchdowns on five possessions spanning the second and third quarters, went dormant down the stretch. That allowed Vick to lead the Eagles back from a 27-10 deficit.
With the score trimmed to 27-20, Vick had 4:13 to cover 77 yards and guide the Eagles to the game-tying touchdown. Vick's runs of 9 and 16 yards moved the ball to midfield. Matthews sacked Vick to set up third-and-13 but had to go to the bench because he was exhausted. Vick then hit Jason Avant for a 12-yard gain at the 2-minute warning.
That set up fourth-and-1 from the Packers' 42. Vick lined up in the shotgun but this was a run all the way — right at Matthews, who stuffed Vick. The Eagles had burned all of their timeouts, so the game was over.
The defining moment appeared to come in the opening six-and-a-half minutes of the third quarter. Charles Woodson's brilliant strip thwarted the Eagles' opening drive of the half, and the offense drove 62 yards to a touchdown and a 20-3 lead. A 20-yard completion from Aaron Rodgers to Jermichael Finley on third-and-9 was the big play, John Kuhn ran for 12 yards, Brandon Jackson ran for 3 yards and Kuhn scored from 3 yards. But Vick, playing full-time at quarterback in place of injured Kevin Kolb (concussion), almost rallied the Eagles on the strength of his left arm and his renowned legs.
Rodgers started the game with three consecutive incompletions but wound up going 16-for-22 in the first half, with a perfectly thrown 6-yard touchdown pass to Donald Driver on third-and-goal. Those six incompletions included a clock-killing spike that allowed Mason Crosby to hit a team-record, 56-yard field goal as time expired and make it 13-3 at halftime.
The defense was brilliant in that opening 30 minutes, with the Eagles managing merely 49 yards (2.2 yards per play) and three first downs. Philadelphia had 0 net passing yards, with Matthews and B.J. Raji posting sacks. Their only points were created off of Rodgers' second-drive incompletion.
Matthews started Allen Iverson's infamous "Practice?!?" rant on Friday, but he didn't look like he needed those 29 days of missed practice time and game action. On the play of the game, Matthews beat Brent Celek's block with quickness, deflected LeSean McCoy's block and stuffed Vick on fourth-and-1.
Who else but Matthews? About the only thing he did wrong was drop an interception in the second quarter. He had a sack to stop the Eagles' first possession, a strip of Kolb (that resulted in his concussion) in the second quarter and his sack and stuff of Vick on the final drive. Oh, he posted a team-high seven tackles.
Five: Remember that defense that couldn't rush the passer in the preseason? Matthews had two sacks, and Raji, Cullen Jenkins and Frank Zombo had one apiece.
Dom Capers, on the defense's struggles against Vick: "I think Michael Vick played six plays in the first half, which was kind of what we were anticipating. So, we had a limited game plan for Michael Vick and a large game plan for Kolb. Obviously, a lot of the game plan we had for Kolb – when he went out in the second half – went out the window. We had to adjust. I thought our guys played pretty well against him in the first half in the limited reps he was in there."
The Packers and Bears lead the division, with Chicago holding off Detroit 19-14 when Calvin Johnson's game-winning touchdown catch being overruled because the ball hit the turf — even though it was after Johnson controlled the ball with two feet on the ground.
The other things you might have missed
— Ryan Grant got on a roll in the second quarter but left with a sprained ankle. Coach Mike McCarthy didn't know how long he'd be out. Justin Harrell sustained a "significant" knee injury, Jenkins played through a broken hand and Nick Collins didn't miss any time after injuring his ribs after a pass deflection in the end zone on third-and-goal.
"I don't think it's too major," Grant said after watching the second half while wearing a boot on his ankle. "We'll see how it goes. But if you look at my track record, I don't miss too many games. But guys will adjust."
— Harrell's injury left the defensive line with only Jenkins, Raji and Ryan Pickett. Expecting the Eagles to come out throwing, McCarthy deactivated rookies Mike Neal (side) and C.J. Wilson.
— So much for the Eagles' special teams superiority. Jordy Nelson averaged 31.2 yards on four kickoff returns and the Packers' coverage units held Ellis Hobbs in check on kickoff returns (23.3-yard average) and Jackson on punt returns (7.0 average). Outside of his final punt, Tim Masthay was outstanding with his hang time and sideline placement.
— Not only that, but the Packers' oft-penalized special teams didn't have a single flag. The team has a whole was hit with just two penalties for 15 yards compared to 10 for 80 for Philadelphia.
— A.J. Hawk barely played on defense, with Green Bay using nickel and dime on practically every snap because of the Eagles' pass-happy attack.
Agree or disagree?: Discuss hot Packers topics in our, free forums. Leave Bill a question in the subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum.
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at email@example.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.