GREEN BAY – Back in Week 3, the Packers got a glimpse of the fourth-quarter comeback theme that Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford was on his way to developing in 2016.
But they also saw a game that never should have gotten as close as it did, because while Stafford was bringing the Lions back from an early 31-3 deficit, he gave Green Bay’s defense multiple chances at interceptions.
“We had a few opportunities in the first game we played them, and we came up short,” outside linebacker Clay Matthews said on Thursday. “So hopefully we can take advantage. It seems like we’re playing real well regarding the turnovers on defense, and maybe that’ll be the difference in the game.”
The Packers hung on to beat the Lions back in late September, 34-27, but it would have been much easier had the defense’s recent penchant for takeaways been in full working order.
While cornerback Damarious Randall had an early interception and long return to set up a field goal, the Packers let three other shots at picks slip through their collective grasp.
Defensive back Micah Hyde and inside linebacker Joe Thomas had their hands on passes over the middle, while cornerback LaDarius Gunter had his mitts on one in the end zone for a potential touchback.
The missed opportunities ultimately didn’t cost the Packers a win back then, but they certainly could come Sunday night at Ford Field. Green Bay’s defense has recorded 12 takeaways over the last three games, a big part of the Packers’ late-season surge to set up the NFC North title showdown.
The Packers don’t see Stafford’s dislocated middle finger, which is protected by a customized glove on his throwing hand, having much impact on his game to this point.
They won’t be counting on the injury to produce a turnover. Instead, they’ll be relying on their pass rush to make something happen.
Julius Peppers, who swatted the ball out of Stafford’s hand last year to begin the Packers’ comeback in the Hail Mary game, had a strip-sack in Chicago two weeks ago. Then Matthews had one last week vs. Minnesota, when he started looking like his old self again.
Matthews reiterated on Thursday that his shoulder won’t fully heal until the offseason, but it’s able to handle a lot more than it could a few weeks ago.
“There’s still times I have to be careful and be smart, but for the most part, I can actually contribute to a level I’m accustomed to playing at,” he said.
In a game that could come down to a big defensive play to turn the tide, that’s good news. So is the progress Nick Perry showed with his clubbed-up hand, recording two late sacks vs. the Vikings last week.
If pressure on Stafford can produce a fumble or errant throw, the Packers must take advantage on Sunday night. Unlike in Week 3, their season very well could depend on it.
“We know who we are,” Matthews said. “We’ve battled through a lot of adversity this year, and we feel like we’re starting to peak and hopefully heading the right direction.
“We feel confident. We feel like we’re really starting to click, and hopefully that correlates to a win this weekend, and more in the future.”