GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Packers were supposed to get outside linebacker Clay Matthews and safety Charles Woodson back this week, but they’ll have to settle for the return of just one of their star defensive players.
Woodson, who has missed the past six games with a broken collarbone, has been ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Chicago Bears.
“Very frustrating day,” coach Mike McCarthy said of Woodson. “Charles was ready to play, he’s ready to go. But the doctors are still, based on the information over the last two days, we’re going to hold him out of the game. This is in the best interest of Charles. I know it’s disappointing, frustrating for him. He’s continuing to rehab. That’s basically where he was all day today.
“He will be out this week.”
Woodson’s injury was supposed to sideline him for six weeks, but including the Packers’ bye, Sunday will mark eight weeks since he was hurt Oct. 21 in St. Louis.
“We’re very close,” McCarthy said of Woodson’s status. “It’s the judgement of our medical staff, in particular Dr. (Pat) McKenzie, he does not feel it’s in Charles’ best interest to play in this game. Trust me, that’s not easy. He’s been preparing himself. He practiced last week. I know he’s extremely frustrated.”
Matthews, however, practiced Wednesday for the first time in more than a month and appears healthy enough to return after missing four consecutive games with a hamstring injury.
“I feel good,” Matthews said at his locker. “It was nice to get out there, back with the team today practicing. Coming back from an injury we’ll obviously limit the reps and increase them as the week goes on. But I feel good. We’ve had an adequate amount of time to get ready and healthy and to come at this thing fresh and ready for the last part of the season.”
This is not the first time that Matthews has had issues with his left hamstring. Using those previous experiences dealing with the recovery, Matthews knew to work patiently through the rehabilitation process this time around.
“Maybe a younger Clay might have pushed it a little too much in trying to get back out there, but you have to realize the bigger picture here,” Matthews said. “We were able to get a few wins in my absence, but at the same time, with a few games left and an opportunity to clinch this thing, with an opportunity to get into the playoffs, ultimately that’s the big picture; it’s to get healthy and go into the last part of the season and playoffs full strength and full speed.”
Matthews being unavailable for four games didn’t come close to changing his status as the Packers’ leader in sacks. Matthews, with nine, is still far ahead of fellow outside linebackers Erik Walden and Dezman Moses, who are tied for second on the team with three each.
Matthews’ return comes just in time to face the Bears, the team he racked up 3.5 sacks against in Week 2. In that game, Matthews repeatedly beat left tackle J’Marcus Webb off the edge and forced Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler into his worst game of the season.
“When you have a good day rushing the passer – it might not equal sacks directly, but if you feel good as a pass rusher, you get into a routine, a rhythm and a groove,” Matthews said. “I definitely felt that was the case the first time we played them. I want to break out a little bit of the rust, obviously sitting out a few games, but there shouldn’t be a drop-off. Hopefully there isn’t.”
Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers will need Matthews to perform as if he hasn’t been out because in the past three games, Green Bay has just two total sacks as a team.
“I’m just one player in this game right here,” Matthews said.
That’s technically true, but no other Packers defensive player forces an opposing offense to game plan around him like Matthews.
“He’s one of the best players in the league,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “That’ll definitely give them a boost. They’re a better football team with him on the football field.”