Packers try to get better grip on 4th quarters

November 15, 2013

 
Green Bay Packers' Clay Matthews wears a club on his hand during the first half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday, Nov. 10, 2013, in Green Bay, Wis.

GREEN BAY Clay Matthews' fingers on his right hand are free.

Maybe that will give the Packers' defense a tighter grasp on shutting down opponents in the fourth quarter.

Green Bay has been outscored 83-46 in fourth quarters this year. It's a season-long problem especially exposed the last two weeks when long drives by the Bears and Eagles chewed away fourth-quarter minutes in victories over the Packers at Lambeau Field.

Last week's game-ending 15-play, 75-yard drive in the final 9:32 of the 27-13 loss to Philadelphia was especially painful.

"We're on the next week," Matthews would only say when asked about that finish.

Otherwise, it was a typically colorful Matthews on Thursday. He might be in an especially good mood because he no longer has a large, heavy wrap, or "club" encasing his right hand to protect a thumb healing from surgery. He's still wearing a protective cast for the thumb, but it appears as if it will offer Matthews more mobility with his other fingers.

Time to get better grip on shedding blockers.

"I'm hoping with my fingers back, I'll be like a feline who got his whiskers back and then I'll be able to be more spry out there," the pass-rushing specialist said Thursday.

Philadelphia Eagles DeSean Jackson, left, attempts to catch a pass as Green Bay Packers' Tramon Williams and Morgan Burnett Bennett, right, defend during an NFL football game on Sunday, Nov. 10. 2013, in Green Bay, Wis.

A healthier Matthews is always better for the Packers, who have been weighed down by injuries all year.

This week, fellow outside linebacker Nick Perry (foot/ankle) and cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring) have been sidelined again. Defensive tackle Johnny Jolly hasn't practiced yet this week, too, with a groin injury. He said Thursday he would be ready for Sunday's game against the Giants.

LB Mike Neal (abdomen) and DT Ryan Pickett (knee) are two other key defenders on the injury report. Coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this week that the team, in part, hasn't overcome the changes that come with the rash of injuries.

They're also not using injuries as an excuse for the subpar fourth quarters.

"We're always talking about who's not there; we need to focus on what the hell we're doing," McCarthy said Monday. He had promised a heightened emphasis on tackling this week.

A lack of turnovers has also hurt. The Packers have just three interceptions this season.

"Those interceptions are going to come as long as you play with the right technique doing your job, because when they come, they come in bunches," safety Morgan Burnett said about the lack of interceptions.

A lack of picks, though, is a problem the whole game, not just late. Burnett said he doesn't think problems are being compounded in the fourth quarter.

"No it is just do your job, play the defense and put (the Eagles game) behind us and move forward," Burnett said.

Same with Pickett, who doesn't think there's "magic formula" to playing better late.

Cornerback Davon House said it might come down to mentality. "Everyone has just got to know and buckle down when it's the fourth quarter," he said. "So it's changing the culture.

"Right now, the Green Bay Packers are known as, when the fourth quarter comes along, we're giving up late scores and late yardage," House said. "I guess it's just a mentality-type thing."

It's a message especially emphasized on the team this week.

"Oh yeah," House said. "Not just this week, the last couple weeks."

With quarterback Aaron Rodgers still on the mend from a fractured left collarbone, the margin of error is smaller for the rest of the Packers, no matter the time of the game.

Notes: Center Evan Dietrich-Smith (knee) was limited a second straight day of practice, while RT Don Barclay (knee) missed a second straight practice. The team had ordered a knee brace for Barclay. "He didn't probably feel as good today as we had hoped. So we'll see how he is tomorrow. I'm going to give him a chance, the full week to try and give it a go," McCarthy said. ... Rodgers watched in sweats while watching Scott Tolzien and newly-signed Matt Flynn in practice. Tolzien, who was on the practice squad two weeks ago, is expected to start Sunday against the Giants. ... McCarthy said Hayward could miss a few weeks again after re-aggravating his hamstring injury. Hayward missed the season's first six games with the injury.


Injured Packers TE Finley plans to have surgery

GREEN BAY Packers tight end Jermichael Finley plans to have spinal fusion surgery and intends to play football again.

Finley's agent, Blake Baratz, said Thursday that Finley has been working with the Packers organization in determining what's best after suffering a neck injury last month in a game against the Browns.

Baratz said it was collectively determined that surgery may not be 100 percent necessary, but is a "proactive measure that should alleviate future risks with regards to a similar episode or re-injury."

The statement said Finley's long-term health is the primary concern, and that Finley intends to resume playing again after surgery to be performed by the Pittsburgh Steelers team neurosurgeon. No timeline for surgery was given.

The doctor, Joseph Maroon, is experienced in conducting the type of procedure on professional athletes in contact sports, and is confident of a full recovery for Finley, the statement said.

"While his return to professional football is a hot-topic conversation, his ability to live a long and fulfilling life with his loved ones is by far and away our main objective," the statement said. Finley and his family said they appreciated the outpouring of support received since the injury.

Finley was having good year with 25 catches for 300 yards and three touchdowns when he was hurt. Finley, who was officially placed on season-ending injured reserve last week, is a free agent after this year.

Pro Football Talk first reported the statement Wednesday.

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Associated Press