First things first for the Packers: Green Bay must beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday to keep flickering playoff hopes alive. Getting the veteran pass rusher back would help.
“I’m feeling good actually,” Matthews said after practice Wednesday. “But every day I was getting exponentially better, so I feel really good today … granted it was a light practice, but I definitely envision seeing myself out there Sunday.”
Matthews returned to practice as a limited participant after missing all of last week leading up to the 31-28 loss Sunday to the Pittsburgh Steelers that left Green Bay at 5-6. It’s two games out of a wild-card spot in the NFC.
In a 1-4 tailspin since Rodgers got hurt on Oct. 15 at Minnesota, the Packers might need to win their last five games while other contenders falter. Rodgers is first eligible to practice starting Saturday, assuming he’s even healthy enough from right collarbone surgery to be cleared by the team doctor.
If that happens, the earliest Rodgers would be able to return would be Week 15 at Carolina. The Packers from the start have said Rodgers’ injury could end his season.
While there are no guarantees, Matthews has been impressed with Rodgers’ rehab.
“This past week, being a part of that rehab group, to watch Aaron, what he’s been doing in there, I think we probably should have kept him off (injured reserve) the way he’s coming along, some of the balls he’s throwing,” Matthews said. “Accuracy-wise, everything a quarterback has to do is pretty remarkable.”
But where the Packers are in the playoff picture may also determine Rodgers’ future the rest of the year. It will be up to backup Brett Hundley, who showed progress in the loss to Pittsburgh, to guide the offense for at least the next couple weeks.
Getting more three-turnover games like the one the defense produced against Pittsburgh’s prolific offense would help. Green Bay forced takeaways even without Matthews and run-stuffing defensive lineman Kenny Clark (ankle).
In his second year in the league, Clark has turned into an important piece up front next to Mike Daniels. After being carted off the field, Clark thought his season was over.
He’s hoping to come back, too, against Tampa after returning to practice Wednesday.
“It was ugly. My ankle was swollen,” Clark said. “I thought it was worse than what it was, honestly. I’m happy it was a high ankle sprain.”
What the Packers might need most on defense is more pressure on the quarterback after coming up with one sack against the Steelers. The defense rarely blitzed while concentrating on stopping receiver Antonio Brown, putting the onus on pass rushers to win matchups. Other times, the Packers rushed three but kept a defender close to the line to spy on crossing routes.
“But we have to win this week … after all these losses,” Matthews said. “But it starts with a win. We were close on Sunday night, but close doesn’t cut it. This is the week.”
Notes: RB Aaron Jones (knee) returned to practice for the first time since getting hurt on Nov. 12 against Chicago. The team’s leading rusher was limited. … RB Ty Montgomery (ribs/wrist) missed practice, as did CB Kevin King (shoulder).