One-handed Nick Perry exceeds expectations
GREEN BAY – That black, tennis-racket-sized club on Nick Perry’s left hand was an edge rusher’s worst nightmare. He couldn’t grab and hold offensive tackles. Couldn’t rip and shed.
The Green Bay Packers' sacks leader played with one hand Saturday. He should’ve been helpless.
“I wish I could have my hands,” Perry said, “because I can do a lot more with that. But for what it is, I just try to do what I can with what I have. Having to have a cast on there doesn’t make it better, but throughout the week I tried to find ways to make sure I was playing my part in the game.”
Perry improvised against the Minnesota Vikings. A bull rush here. An inside move there. It was nothing pretty. More awkward than anything.
But Perry made it work.
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The soon-to-be free agent was more productive than anyone could have expected in the Packers' 38-25 win against the Vikings. It wasn’t just the team-high two sacks, both coming in garbage time late in the fourth quarter. Combined with Clay Matthews’ resurgence, Perry helped nurse a wounded Packers pass rush back to health.
The Packers sacked Vikings quarterback Sam Bradford four times Saturday, their most since this current five-game win streak started back in Philadelphia a month ago. Perry and Matthews got to Bradford three times, with Matthews’ pressure helping set up a fourth sack from defensive tackle Mike Daniels.
Matthews was the star Saturday. His strip sack near midfield with a minute left in the first half, coupled with the Packers' touchdown five plays later, was the game’s defining turning point.
But Perry’s return might have been the most underrated development Saturday, beefing up an anemic pass rush.
“It was huge,” Matthews said of Perry’s return. “Obviously he's battling through his broken hand. I was quite surprised he was able to generate as much pressure as he did. Getting two sacks is huge with a club on, so good for him. It's good to have him back.
“Obviously he'll continue to get more and more healthy, and that's exactly what we need at our pass-rushing position.”
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The Packers need all the pass rush they can get. Their secondary continued to struggle Saturday, even against a Vikings passing game that hadn’t produced a 300-yard game since before Thanksgiving.
When Bradford wasn’t sacked, he usually was lighting up the Packers. He finished with 382 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions, a 110.6 passer rating in what might have been his best game all season.
In a Week 2 loss, the Packers couldn’t cover Vikings receiver Stefon Diggs. They were unable to contain slot receiver Adam Thielen on Saturday. Thielen finished with 12 catches for 202 yards and two touchdowns. One score was a meaningless 8-yard grab with 40 seconds to play, long after the game turned academic.
The other was a 71-yard bomb midway through the second quarter that helped prevent a rout after the Packers built a 21-6 lead.
Safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, newly minted as a first-time Pro Bowler, appeared to be late coming to the sideline. His shallow angle also collided into cornerback Quinten Rollins. With both defensive backs on the ground, Thielen easily trotted down the right sideline into the end zone.
“I think we had it game planned,” Thielen said, “and I knew we would get to (that call) at some point. I thought it was a pretty good play. Sam did a great job of getting me the ball. It was nice to get on the board at that time of the game. It was a good play to get some momentum in our favor.”
It was the type of play the Packers can’t afford if they finish their late-season run with a playoff berth. But nothing remedies a poor secondary like a consistent pass rush.
A healthy Matthews would be the biggest boost, but the Packers need more than one player for opposing offenses to game plan against. The combination of Matthews and Perry, alongside veteran Julius Peppers and Datone Jones, allows for a solid rotation.
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“That’s a pretty good front four,” Matthews said.
Perry could be key.
Before Saturday, Perry said, pain was the biggest factor keeping him off the field. He missed two games after having surgery to insert multiple screws into in the metacarpal below his left middle finger. His hand still bore the stitches, but Perry said he got through four quarters without pain.
“I may be a little sore tomorrow,” Perry said, “but I’ll be fine throughout the week.”
If he can be as effective next week in Detroit, it’ll go a long way toward the Packers securing a NFC North title. It would be an ideal ending to what has been the best season in Perry’s career. The 2012 first-round pick entered his fifth season with 12.5 sacks in his first four years.
With two Saturday, Perry reached 10 for this season.
It wasn’t easy. Far from ideal. Perry just made it work.
“Just got to use your other hand a little bit better,” Perry said. “You’ve got to rely on other things. There’s certain things you can’t do, so you have to work around that, and find other teams’ weaknesses to put myself in the best position to make plays.”
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