GREEN BAY - It had been a long drought for Kenny Clark — 10 straight games without a quarterback sack, the longest he had gone without dropping an opponent since he waited 26 games at the start of his career before getting sack No. 1.
Over 18 games from Dec. 3, 2017 through Dec. 9, 2018, the Green Bay Packers defensive tackle emerged as one of the best interior rushers in football, recording 10.5 sacks, 14 quarterback hits and 11 tackles for loss.
This season brought a bit more famine for the 24-year-old, who notched a half sack in Chicago in the season opener and brought down Kirk Cousins against Minnesota in Week 2. After that? Goose eggs.
Until Sunday, that is, when he took down Washington quarterback Dwayne Haskins twice, sharing one sack with Kyler Fackrell.
“I’ve been pressuring the quarterback all year, and I just wasn’t able to get the guy down with the ball,” Clark said after the game. “I got two today, so hopefully it just keeps rolling. I just focus on doing my job, focus on winning my one-on-ones and doing what I gotta do to help the team win.”
The full sack came when Clark beat Washington center Chase Roullier quickly off the snap and right guard Brandon Scherff couldn’t lend much support.
“I’ve been winning on push-pulls all year,” Clark said of that play. “That’s kind of my game. I’ve been pressuring the quarterback all year like that. And I got him on a good push-pull and he held the ball and I was praying he didn’t throw it away or nothing and I got a chance to sack him.”
King was game-time decision
Kevin King appeared on the injury report last week with a shoulder issue after the game against the New York Giants, but the Packers' starting cornerback practiced in some capacity every day. Shortly before Packers head coach Matt LaFleur had to submit his active 46 players to the league 90 minutes before kickoff Sunday, however, it was determined that King would not be able to play.
It was the first game the third-year corner had missed after appearing in the previous 12, which is a career-high. He leads the Packers in interceptions with four. Backup corner Tony Brown (heel) was also inactive, meaning Chandon Sullivan saw 75% of the defensive snaps in the secondary.
“We kind of knew Kevin was battling whatever he was going through; Tony too, so we knew it was going to be a game-time decision and then more so what is going to help the team long-term, not necessarily just that game,” Sullivan said. “I got the call. They were just like be ready go nickel and dime, you’re not new to this, you’ve done it before, just go out there and play your game. I was excited to get the opportunity, but that’s what we prepare for.”
Sullivan finished with four tackles and one pass defensed, which came on a third-down play.
The injuries allowed second-year corner Josh Jackson to play 20 snaps also, which was the most action he has seen on defense since Week 5 in Dallas.
“I think he's been coming along well,” LaFleur said of Jackson. “I think he's done a really nice job in there. I'm excited about him. He's also shown up on special teams as well.”
LaFleur winningest rookie coach
The Packers’ triumph over the Giants on Dec. 1 guaranteed Matt LaFleur a winning record in his first season in Green Bay, but Sunday’s victory over Washington put him in a class by himself for the franchise as no other first-year coach had won 10 games.
But LaFleur didn’t take much time to reflect on the feat.
“I actually, right after the game (Sunday), I went upstairs and I put on the film because I knew that there was so much more for us, and I was pretty upset with myself after the game as well and so I went up there and started watching the tape,” LaFleur said Monday. “I just know we’re not where we need to be as a football team. I still think… I’m optimistic we can get there with the same approach we take every week and that’s to beat the Chicago Bears.”
Slow to go
The next time rookie tight end Jace Sternberger is following quarterback Aaron Rodgers across the field during a scramble drill, he’ll know to slow down.
It appeared Rodgers was going to make the rookie’s first reception a touchdown when he spotted him in the end zone. But Sternberger was a little too aggressive running across the field and didn’t notice there was a hole in the Washington defense that he could have exploited.
Rodgers threw it, but the pass wound up behind Sternberger.
“I thought he put it in a really good spot,” LaFleur said of Rodgers. “I think Jace, he’s a young player and I think the more he plays, the better he’s going to get, the better feel he’ll get out there.
“Certainly, we just missed that one. I think he’ll slow down on that route in the future because the safety was kind of barreling down, so I thought it was a good ball.”
The Packers announced they have activated veteran offensive tackle Jared Veldheer, who was claimed on waivers last week. He was given a one-week exemption because he was previously on the reserve/retired list. The team released tackle Adam Pankey to make room for Veldheer.
779 and counting
The Packers haven’t had a 1,000-yard rusher since Eddie Lacy finished with 1,139 during the 2014 season, but Aaron Jones has a decent chance of getting there.
Jones has 779 yards and would need to average 73.6 yards over the final three games in order to hit the milestone. Before breaking out for 134 yards on 16 carries Sunday, Jones had managed an average of 45 yards over the previous four games, so it’s far from a guarantee he’ll get there.
“Man, I was born in December, I’m a Sagittarius,” Jones said. “I’ve got a lot of juice left.”