GREEN BAY – Clay Matthews was determined to grit through his usual share of snaps last week, no matter how unlikely it was with a bad shoulder.
The Green Bay Packers linebacker said it was “my decision” to play against the Houston Texans. He lined up at inside linebacker on the first snap. Lined up there again on the second. Then again on the third.
“After the first three plays,” Matthews said, “it wasn’t where I was at. So we stuck with just coming in on passing situations where hopefully I could at least do something. But even in that role, I was still limited.”
Matthews didn’t record a single tackle last week. No sacks, no quarterback hits. He mostly ran around the field with his left arm hanging. His shoulder, with a gnarly, rainbow-colored bruise, was of practically no use.
But the six-time Pro Bowler proved one thing Sunday. Yes, he’s tough enough to play through pain.
Matthews has missed four games this season with a hamstring he strained twice. He returned against Washington before it was full strength, then sprained the AC joint in his left shoulder the next week.
It has become trendy in Matthews’ eighth season to question his toughness, despite his having played every game the previous two seasons. Matthews was asked about the criticism before leaving the locker room Thursday.
“I don’t pay much mind to it,” Matthews said. “I think the guys know within this locker room, pain is not an issue with me. I’ve had my fair share of injuries that have kept me off the field, but as far as wanting to be out there and willingness and what I put on the line, I don’t think that’s really a question with the guys in the locker room. I think that’s most important.”
Matthews acknowledged last week was “a little early” to play after his shoulder injury. He said he didn’t have any setbacks, despite playing through the pain.
Earlier this week, coach Mike McCarthy said Matthews wouldn’t practice until Saturday. Matthews had a chat with his coach, he said, urging McCarthy to let him on the field. On Thursday, Matthews practiced in a limited role.
“It definitely has really progressed a lot more than last week,” Matthews said. “Last week, I was just trying to get range of motion back. I didn’t anticipate to lose that much strength in that shoulder. But, yeah, it’s a lot better than where we were last week, so hopefully that’s a positive indicator moving forward.”
The Packers could use Matthews at full strength — or close to it — Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks. They’ll be without outside linebacker Nick Perry (hand), who Matthews said has played “tremendous football” in a career year this season.
Without Perry, the Packers lose their leading rusher. Perry’s eight sacks is most on the team. It could force the Packers to slide Matthews back to outside linebacker more than expected, but Matthews will need two strong shoulders to fight off blocks from offensive tackles.
“You always like to have Clay at full speed,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “I give Clay credit. He went out there last week, wasn’t full go. But he gave it everything that he had, and our hope is he’s heading in the right direction in terms of getting his strength back in that shoulder. Because you’d like to have a healthy Clay available to you.”
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