Defense Feels Matthews' Pain

The injuries continue to pile up, but none was more painful on Sunday than Clay Matthews' hamstring. Just look at the stats and it's evident that the game turned when Matthews departed for precautionary reasons with a tight hamstring.

LANDOVER, Md. — The Packers' parade to the trainer's room continued Sunday: Jermichael Finley, knee … Ryan Pickett, ankle … Donald Lee, shoulder …

On and on it went during the 16-13 overtime loss to the Redskins (as indeed it has gone throughout the early stages of the season), right up until Aaron Rodgers suffered a concussion while throwing the day's decisive interception, on Green Bay's final offensive play.

Rodgers' injury is obviously the one that bears watching, the one that will have as much impact on the course of the season as any.

But this game — one that seemed within the Packers' grasp so many times — began slipping away for good when linebacker Clay Matthews went to the sideline after reinjuring his left hamstring late in the third quarter, never to return.

Never mind what Redskins quarterback Donovan McNabb said: "I didn't even recognize it when Clay went out."

And never mind what Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said, either: "I don't think anything changed."

The truth is, everything changed after Matthews, the NFL‘s sack leader, departed with 2:08 left in the third period. The flow of the game. McNabb's comfort level. Everything.

Before Matthews left, the Packers were swarming McNabb. They had three of their five sacks to that point — 1.5 of those by the second-year outside linebacker, swelling his season total to 8.5 — and likely would have had three more were it not for McNabb‘s mobility. He was only 12-for-25 through the air at that juncture for 150 yards. And the Packers held a 13-3 lead.

That's despite a first-half goal-line stand by the Redskins, despite five drops by Green Bay's receivers in the first 30 minutes (three of those by Donald Driver) and despite the first of Mason Crosby's two missed field goals.

After that, McNabb found his rhythm, en route to his fifth victory in seven career starts against Green Bay. He hit 14 of his last 24 attempts for 207 yards and a touchdown, to finish 26-for-49 for 357 yards.

The touchdown, a 48-yarder to Anthony Armstrong, came on the possession following Matthews' departure. The possession after that, McNabb put the Redskins in position for a game-tying field goal with 6:39 left in the game, which Graham Gano missed from 51 yards. But when Washington next had the ball, McNabb moved his team 53 yards in seven plays. And this time, Gano connected from 45 yards with 1:07 remaining, tying the score.

Pretty dramatic difference, no?

"He's a guy you have to pay attention to," McNabb said of Matthews.

"His motor runs 24-7," Williams said.

But Matthews spent all that time on the sideline, icing his hammy. He said the injury is not as serious as the one he sustained in the preseason, that this time he was held out as a precaution.

"We're just being smart," he said. "I feel good. I can still move around. There's no pain. But you've just got to be smart with these things, because we don't need another four weeks (of being out)."

It was bad enough sitting out Sunday.

"It's very difficult," Matthews said, "especially when you think that you can in some way change the outcome of this game. I felt that I was having a pretty good game, getting after the quarterback. I don't feel like he could have made some of those passes if I was in there."

The Packers were shorthanded at the beginning of the day, especially on defense. Safety Morgan Burnett (knee) had been lost for the season last week against Detroit; Charlie Peprah started for him against Washington. Desmond Bishop opened the game at inside linebacker for Nick Barnett (wrist), seeing as Brandon Chillar (shoulder) also was unavailable.

Pickett went down on the Redskins' second offensive play — shortly after Finley left and not long before Lee departed, as well. And much later, Matthews signaled to the sideline that he needed to come out of the game, after taking a hard outside rush on tackle Jammal Brown and reaching vainly for McNabb, on a play that saw the Washington quarterback throw incomplete to fullback Mike Sellers.

That started a game of musical chairs at linebacker. Rookie Frank Zombo, benched to start the day in favor of Brad Jones at the other outside spot, came on for Matthews. Then Brady Poppinga replaced Jones. And before too long, Jones was inserted in place of Zombo.

"The next guy steps in, and you've got to do the job," Williams said. "That's why you made the roster."

But the Redskins were rolling by that point, and after safety LaRon Landry picked off Rodgers in overtime, McNabb set up Gano for the game-winner, from 33 yards. (Two defensive penalties, on Poppinga and Charles Woodson, aided and abetted Washington on that drive.)

"We could have won the game on many different occasions, easily, and we didn't do it," Williams said. "It bothers me that we're giving away games. I feel we're a lot better than this team and a lot better than the last team we lost to (Chicago). The facts say we're not."

Not with all the injuries they have had.

"It's tough," Matthews said. "It's very tough. You want to be out there, have your best playmakers out there to help win ballgames, especially when it comes down to that fourth quarter — last drive and (in position to be) making plays. It's very frustrating, but I've got to do what's best for me, and that's get back out there and try to get healthy."

He's far from alone, of course. And like Williams, Matthews gave lip service to the whole next-man-up notion, the idea that one player's injury is another's opportunity.

"Some of the best careers," he said. "were made from young guys stepping up and never backing off."

But not always. And not necessarily in the case of these Packers.

"The walking wounded," he said, "need to hurry up, get back, get healthy and help this team out. It's early in the season. There's still a lot of football left to be played."

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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at and Facebook under Bill Huber.

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