GREEN BAY – There may be a time when his career is over that Clay Matthews will sit back and reflect on the night he became the Packers’ all-time sack leader.
Right now, the only thing that mattered to the six-time Pro Bowl linebacker is what his record-breaking 75th sack meant to the Packers’ 35-14 victory over the Chicago Bears in front of 78,362 at Lambeau Field.
Matthews made history on Chicago’s very first offensive play Thursday night, earning a strip-sack and forced fumble of Bears quarterback Mike Glennon, which Packers linebacker Jake Ryan recovered at Chicago’s 3-yard line.
Three plays later, quarterback Aaron Rodgers hit receiver Randall Cobb on a 2-yard touchdown to give Green Bay a commanding 14-0 lead barely 6 minutes into the contest.
“To be able to force that turnover and get the ball back within the 10-yard line and put points on the board, really it changed the way Chicago wanted to run their offensive game plan,” said Matthews, who broke Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila’s previous franchise record of 74½ sacks.
“Being down 14-0, it’s tough to stick with that ground-and-pound with their two talented backs.”
The play had a domino effect for the defense, which forced a season-high four takeaways in the victory. That included linebacker Blake Martinez’s recovery of a Glennon fumble on Chicago’s next possession.
Safeties Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Kentrell Brice also were responsible for the defense’s first two interceptions of the season, picking off Glennon in the second and third quarters, respectively.
The Packers’ offense converted those four takeaways into 21 points with Matthews’ big play on the opening play of the game getting things started for Green Bay’s eighth-ranked defense.
“You talk about all the greats who played for this franchise and then for you to do it against the Bears in primetime, that’s awesome,” safety Morgan Burnett said. “To get that takeaway and forced fumble, that really set the tone for the team I feel like. Once he did that, that thing was rolling.”
Facing the Bears’ one-two backfield punch of Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen, the Packers opted to start the game in their traditional base defense with Ryan returning from a concussion and hamstring that sidelined him last week against Cincinnati.
The Packers forced three turnovers and three punts on the Bears’ first six possessions operating mainly in base before reverting back to their “Nitro” nickel package when Chicago started passing more after falling behind 21-0 near the end of the first half.
A week after rushing for a combined 218 yards against Pittsburgh, Howard and Cohen were limited to only 77 yards on 24 attempts (3.2 yards per carry). The Packers managed to contain the two backs despite veteran defensive tackle Mike Daniels missing his second straight game due to a hip injury.
The Bears entered the fourth quarter with only 39 yards on 16 attempts before tacking on some yards once the score was out of reach.
“I’m kind of mad we let it go towards the end of the fourth quarter because they had only like 40 yards going into that (late) drive,” defensive tackle Kenny Clark said. “We did a good job all day of stopping the run and shutting that stuff down because they have a great offensive line and great backs.”
The Packers’ defense now has a 10-day break until it travels to face reigning NFL rookie of the year and rushing champ Zeke Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys, giving Daniels and veteran cornerback Davon House (quad) time to rest up for a possible return.
While Thursday was a special night for Matthews, the Packers’ all-time sack leader hopes to put that number well out of reach in years to come.
“It will mean more when I’m done playing but, right now, just because we’re in full swing with the season, you don’t stop once you hit a certain milestone,” Matthews said. “To me, after that play, I wanted a few more.
“It’s cool to be up there with some of the greats, especially in such an amazing organization. That’s pretty cool, but the further I’m removed from it, the more it will mean to me.”
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