The Green Bay Packers’ defense did what good defenses do.
And Clay Matthews did what great players do.
They delivered the big play when it counted.
With the Packers nursing a 24-16 lead late in the fourth quarter on Sunday and Chicago driving into position to score the tying touchdown, Matthews raced across the formation, stepped in front of Jay Cutler’s pass for a critical interception and returned the ball 48 yards. Not only did the play snuff out a Bears scoring opportunity but it set up the offense for the clinching touchdown in a 31-23 victory.
“Get an interception,” Matthews said of his role on the play. “Drop into coverage, make a pick, be the hero.”
Matthews certainly was the hero on a day when Green Bay's defense couldn't get off the field and its high-powered offense managed only one play longer than 20 yards.
“Clay Matthews is obviously a terrific, terrific talent, let alone an outstanding football player,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “I thought he was going to score. If he keeps cutting back like that, we might have to get him on offense. That was a big-time play and a play we needed. I thought that play changed the game.”
No doubt about that. On a day when the Bears outgained the Packers by 80 yards and ran 18 more plays, it was Matthews that provided the game’s only turnover.
“You know, it happens. It’s part of the game,” new Bears coach John Fox said. “I don’t know what his exact quarterback rating and statistics are but I saw it being a great play No. 52. Without seeing it on tape, it would be hard for me to really talk about. But I thought Jay’s performance was good today. But against this football team, we weren’t quite as good as we needed to be.”
The video below tells the story. Matthews lined up at right inside linebacker – between Chicago’s left guard and left tackle – while Martellus
Bennett was the tight end on the left side of the formation. Lined up over Bennett was defensive back Micah Hyde. At the snap, Hyde chased running back Matt Forte, who was running a route into the right flat. That gave Cutler the illusion that Bennett was open running up the seam. Cutler, obviously didn’t expect Matthews, who made an all-hands catch on a dead sprint.
“It wasn’t a breakdown,” Cutler said. “He was back side. We started front side of the read. Marty (Bennett) popped. He’s a good player. He just kind of floated in there. As soon as I let it go, I knew we were in trouble. It was a good play by him.”
The Packers turned that into the clinching touchdown en route to their first season-opening win since 2011.
“I think it was (the game’s pivotal play),” nose tackle B.J. Raji said. “They got some stuff on us but ultimately when it came to money time I think our guys responded and I was happy to see that.”