Matthews up for challenge as Packers rally without Rodgers
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — In the visiting locker room after Green Bay lost to the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday, the Packers spoke of how they’d rally behind backup Brett Hundley in the absence of injured quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
Not linebacker Clay Matthews. He called Rodgers’ broken collarbone — a potentially season-ending injury — “disheartening.” With injuries atop of injuries, Matthews said the “next-man up” mentality was “being thrown to the wolves.”
On Thursday, Matthews struck a more optimistic tone as the Packers get ready for Sunday’s home game against the New Orleans Saints.
“At first, you can’t help but have this kind of doomsday mentality,” Matthews said. “When your quarterback goes down, I don’t care if it’s Aaron or anyone else, that’s the thing that makes the team go.”
Like Rodgers, Matthews is one of the veteran leaders on the Packers. He and Rodgers are friends as well as TV commercial co-stars.
After a tough start to the week, Matthews likes the way the team has practiced.
“If anything, I think it’s put a little bit more focus on every other position, every other guy in this locker room,” Matthews said. “We’re all behind Brett now, and we’ve all got to pick our game up. It’s going to be tough sledding, but we’re up for the challenge.”
It will be a big challenge against the Saints, who have won three straight after dropping their first two games.
Quarterback Drew Brees has given the Packers fits, with six 300-yard passing games in six starts. In their previous matchup, a 44-23 rout by the Saints in New Orleans in 2014, Brees threw for 311 yards and had almost as many touchdown passes (three) as incompletions (five).
“They’ve really been picking up steam, and you don’t have to look any further than last week’s game against Detroit,” Matthews said of the Saints’ 52-38 victory. “They’re going to air it out. Drew’s kind of the thing that makes that whole offense tick.”
Without Rodgers leading one of the NFL’s top offenses, the team’s key defenders know their unit must pick up some of the slack. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers was happy about the team’s two takeaways against Minnesota, and an injury-riddled secondary could get back starting cornerbacks Davon House and Kevin King.
“I think ... it will actually push guys to play a lot harder knowing that they have a different quarterback back there,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “I’m excited about it, man. The defensive guys are excited about it. We’re ready to roll.”
NOTES: Besides Rodgers, G Lane Taylor (ankle) and S Morgan Burnett (hamstring) did not practice. LT David Bakhtiari (hamstring) and RT Bryan Bulaga were limited, with Bulaga still in the concussion protocol. ... Matthews took exception to Minnesota LB Anthony Barr’s hit on Rodgers, which resulted in the broken collarbone: “I’m not going to go as far as to say hits are dirty, because I’m sure plenty of fans from all sorts of teams have said the same thing about me,” Matthews said. “It’s unfortunate it happened but surprised that there wasn’t a flag. Obviously, I’m going to say I would’ve pulled off on that but if that was their quarterback, I think it’s at the statute of limitations where you need to pull off.”