Insider: Thumbs up to Matthews, down to special teams
In essence, the Packers (7-3) pulled into a tie with the Lions for first place in the NFC North Division, although not technically — Detroit holds the tiebreaker by virtue of its Week 3 victory over Green Bay.
The Packers would be in the playoffs if the season ended today, which, of course, it doesn't. What it all means, though, is that they're ascending in the NFC playoff chase, while others are struggling. NFL observers will look at Philadelphia a little more critically after this loss, Detroit lost to Arizona, and Seattle lost to Kansas City.
It's still looking like the division will be decided Dec. 28, when the Packers host the Lions in a regular-season finale.
Like it or not, this inside linebacker thing looks good on Clay Matthews. Playing inside linebacker in the nickel, which has become the Packers' base defense, and outside linebacker in the dime the past two weeks, Matthews has had two of his best games of the season.
On Sunday, he was in on five tackles, had a 10-yard sack, one tackle for loss, one batted-down pass and two quarterback hits. Besides his sack, Matthews' biggest play might have been just before the end of the first half when Philadelphia was driving for a potential touchdown.
On third-and-10 from the Green Bay 15, Matthews forced Mark Sanchez to throw incomplete to tight end Brent Celek. The Eagles had to settle for a field goal.
For the first time this season, the Packers kicking/punting special teams had major problems. In a close game, they might have been more costly.
First, holder Tim Masthay muffed a point-after snap in the second quarter, and it went downhill from there. The Packers also had another point-after attempt blocked, had a Masthay punt blocked and Mason Crosby missed a 50-yard field goal attempt wide right.
Granted, the Eagles' special teams units are among the NFL's best — they already had blocked two field goals and a punt — but the Packers can't afford such breakdowns in games that aren't blowouts.
This one was over early, just like last week against Chicago, and it turned on Micah Hyde's first-quarter punt return for a touchdown. Up 10-0, the Packers forced a three-and-out and a punt when Mike Neal sacked Mark Sanchez for a 9-yard loss on third-and-6.
Eagles punter Donnie Jones blasted a 50-yarder than Hyde caught at the Green Bay 25. Hyde caught the ball and juked Josh Huff just as he was bearing down.
Hyde cruised up the middle of the field and outran Jones to the end zone for a 75-yard touchdown. It was Hyde's second career punt return for a score after going 93 yards last year at Minnesota.
DID YOU NOTICE?
- Jordy Nelson's second-quarter touchdown catch was incredibly athletic. He leaped for the ball near the right sideline at about the 2-yard line and not only barely got both feet inbounds, but then curled his right foot around the pylon for a 27-yard touchdown. Acrobatic on many levels.
- The Packers might have gotten a little greedy when they called a timeout with 58 seconds left in the first half and the Eagles facing a third-and-12 at their 30-yard line. It didn't work. Philadelphia got the first down on the next play when Mark Sanchez hit Zach Ertz over the middle for 15 yards. The Eagles then called their own timeout and eventually converted a field goal as time expired.
- Nelson passed Billy Howton for ninth in franchise history for career receiving yards. His 109 yards Sunday gave him 5,588 for his career.
- Clay Matthews passed Aaron Kampman for fourth in franchise history for career sacks. Matthews' second-quarter sack gave him 54 1/2.
- The Packers have outscored their opponents 219-85 in the five games at Lambeau Field this season. Green Bay's plus-134 point differential at home leads the NFL.
- The Packers' defense held the opposing starting quarterback to a passer rating below 85.0 for the eighth game this season. Sanchez's QB rating was 80.3.
- The Packers have allowed their opponent to score only once this season on a second-half opening possession. The Eagles fumbled on theirs Sunday.
RANTS AND RAVES
RAVE: Jordy Nelson continues to get open deep down the right sideline, week after week. You would think with all the film of him beating corners deep, that a priority for every opponent would be shading a safety to his side. This time it happened on the third play of the game, when Nelson got behind cornerback Bradley Fletcher and hauled in an Aaron Rodgers pass for a 64-yard gain before he was brought down at the Eagles' 9-yard line.
RANT: Rodgers had some problems with ball control, although neither of his two fumbles turned out to be costly. On the first, it appeared center Corey Linsley snapped the ball too high, even though Rodgers was credited with the fumble. Rodgers had to fall a bit awkwardly to recover the ball and the Packers lost 14 yards on the play. On the second, Rodgers was sacked by Vinny Curry and fumbled, but the ball was recovered by Richard Rodgers. The Packers scored touchdowns on both drives.
RAVE: Green Bay was remarkable on third-down conversions, especially in the decisive first half. The Packers converted 5 of 6 in the first half, including three times on their second scoring drive in the first quarter. On that drive, they converted on third-and-9 (22-yard pass from Rodgers to Randall Cobb), third-and-18 (24-yard pass from Rodgers to Andrew Quarless) and third-and-10 (19-yard pass from Rodgers to Richard Rodgers).