GREEN BAY — Nick Perry can only smile when re-running the play in his mind.
As the Packers linebacker saw the double-team form in front of him during the waning moments of Sunday’s game against Dallas, Perry’s instincts were to follow Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott through his progressions to perfectly time the throw.
With Clay Matthews bearing down on Prescott off a stunt, Perry jumped as soon as the ball left the rookie quarterback’s hand. It proceeded to bang off his shoulder and fall to the ground as an incompletion.
It was a critical play in the game, forcing Dallas to settle for a 52-yard field goal with 35 seconds remaining. It allowed the Packers’ offense to drive down to Dallas’ 33-yard line and set up Mason Crobsy’s game-winner to seal the 34-31 victory.
While Perry was happy with the overall result, he also wonders what might have been if it hadn’t been for the restrictive club that’s been protecting his injured left hand for the past four games.
“I wish I had my other hand,” said Perry on Monday. “I probably could have caught it, but it came out really fast. I just wanted to get the ball down. That was my initial thought rushing the passer on that play.”
Glancing down at the scar, the Packers’ fifth-year linebacker acknowledges the natural limitations he has to endure when wearing the bulky device on game days.
At the same time, it hasn’t been as debilitating as one might think. While the club certainly has curtailed his ability to catch the football and kept him off the field on early downs, Perry has still found a way to be effective in spite of it over the past month.
A perfect example of that came on the fourth play of the fourth quarter on Sunday. Perry used his natural strength to get All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith on his heels and then stayed with the play to sack Prescott for a 5-yard loss.
It isn’t easy to rush the passer with one hand, but Perry now has four sacks in as many games since returning with the club against Minnesota on Christmas Eve.
He finished the regular season with a team-high 11 sacks despite missing two games with the hand injury and made it known he wasn’t going to use his situation as an excuse in the playoffs.
“In games, I really don’t even think I have a cast out there. That’s how I want to play,” said Perry, who has played 129 of a possible 278 defensive snaps over the last four games. “I don’t want to play as if I’m handicapped and I have one hand. I want to play like everybody else is playing – full speed and ready to make plays out there.”
Perry’s bull rush has been his bread-and-butter since the Packers drafted him out of USC in the first round in 2012, which has helped him overcome his inability to latch onto linemen.
The injury has forced him to rely more on his right hand and proper footwork. He’s leaning on past experience playing through hand injuries, including last year’s playoff run when he didn’t have full use of his right hand due to a broken finger.
“I’ve dealt with pain,” Perry said. “I’ve been in situations where I’ve had to overcome and I think I’ve gotten to a point where I feel good about where I’m at with what I’m dealing with.”
It’s been six weeks since Perry first injured his hand against Houston, but he doesn’t know when or if he’ll be able to play without the club this postseason.
Perry admits he took a “serious blow” to the hand against the Texans, but he’s been encouraged that he hasn’t experienced any setbacks in the four games he’s played.
The benefit of that can be seen in a club that’s progressively grown smaller in recent weeks.
“I wish I could take it off and be ready to go,” Perry said. “That’s what I hope for, but (it’s) day by day.”
Perry’s importance to the defense cannot be overstated. The Packers are 8-1 this year when Perry has at least one sack. The defense will need that production this Sunday when the Packers travel to the Georgia Dome to face Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game.
Ryan was the league’s most efficient passer during the regular season, powering the NFL’s highest-scoring offense with a 117.1 passer rating.
He finished second in the NFL in both touchdown passes (38) and passing yards (4,944) to earn the first AP All-Pro first-team recognition of his nine-year career.
Ryan’s quick release can make it difficult to pressure him, but he was sacked 37 times this past season. If Perry and the rest of the defense are going to be successful on Sunday, they know it starts with getting pressure on Ryan.
“I’m sure he’ll move around if we make him uncomfortable, and that’s what we want to do,” Perry said. “We want to pressure him and provide some relief to our back end, and I think we’ll do a good job with that this week.”