Clay Matthews adjusting to cast, seeing progress in thumb

GREEN BAY, Wis. — There are only brief moments each day in
which Clay Matthews isn’t required to wear some type of brace on his right
hand. Even when he’s sleeping, the surgically repaired right thumb of the Green
Bay Packers’ star outside linebacker is protected. But it’s through daily
activities — Matthews listed doing dishes and making the bed — that he’s slowly
seeing improvements in movement and strength.

Matthews admitted that if he was a member of “normal
society,” recovering from a Bennett’s fracture wouldn’t be too challenging.
Rushing the passer and tackling players to the ground are not the type of tasks
that an average citizen has to worry about, though. And those assignments are a
lot simpler for Matthews to achieve when he has two hands.

So when Matthews returned from a four-game absence last
weekend fitted with a giant club, the job that he often makes look quite easy
was a lot harder than he was used to.

“I have very high expectations for myself no matter what the
case is, but it was one of those things where I had to realize that I’m going
to go out there and do the best that I can do, and a lot of times the best
wasn’t the standard that I hold myself to,” Matthews said.

Matthews played 40 snaps against the Philadelphia Eagles,
producing just two tackles, no sacks and no quarterback pressures. Certainly
not the type of performance that has gotten him voted to the Pro Bowl in each
of his first four NFL seasons. It wasn’t a fun game for him to watch the film
of, either, especially considering that the coaching staff didn’t grade him out
on any sort of curve.

“I don’t want to be held to any exception, like, ‘Well,
that’s OK because you have one hand,’” Matthews said. “It’s part of the deal. I
had realistic expectations for myself going into that game, and it’s obviously
frustrating.”

Without sharing too many specifics, Matthews noted that it
wasn’t graded as the worst game of his NFL career, but it was close.

“I did well as far as mentality knowing what I’m supposed to
do, but that’s only half the battle,” Matthews said. “Physically you have to
make plays and I only had a few of those.”

The timeline that Matthews was given when the injury
originally occurred on Oct. 6 was getting the pins out of the thumb after six
weeks and then resting a while longer before playing again. The six-week window
isn’t up until Sunday, but Matthews is already back. He called
that “a small, individual victory.”

Coach Mike McCarthy stated the obvious this week, saying
that Matthews “struggled with it (the club) at times,” explaining that the
two-time All-Pro selection “is such a hands player,” and thus, had no chance to
be as effective as usual.

“But I tried,” Matthews said.

Matthews also had an interesting analogy about what it was
like playing with that monstrosity engulfing his right hand.

“It’s kind of like a cat — cut its whiskers off, it just
loses its balance,” Matthews said. “I’ve never done that before, but I’ve heard
that’s what happens. That’s how I felt.”

Matthews is resigned to the idea that he’ll “probably have
to wear some type of protection throughout the whole year.” However, after one
game with what was unofficially the biggest club ever worn on game day,
Matthews will now be wearing something significantly more workable. It’s a
spica cast — “your general fiberglass cast” — that he’s pushing doctors to
let him play with.

“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,”
Matthews said.

Matthews added that having his fingers free “means more sacks
and more sacks.” At his current pace, Matthews would finish this season with
the fewest sacks of his career. Granted, he missed four games, but Matthews has
only three sacks past the midway point of the regular season. This from a guy
who had 13.5 sacks last season and signed a five-year, $66 million extension
this offseason.

The Packers need Matthews to perform like the player he
often is when healthy. Green Bay’s defense has fallen apart in recent weeks and
is now ranked 21st in passing yards allowed, 13th in rushing yards allowed and
is last in the league in interceptions.

While Matthews wasn’t his normal self, the Packers were just
glad to have him back on the field. As the protective device on his right hand
gets smaller and smaller, his play will likely get better and better.

“I’m just hoping that I’ll continue to improve each week
until I hopefully I get back to what everyone is used to seeing,” Matthews
said.

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