With a few tweaks to its pressure packages, Green Bay’s defense sacked Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston seven times with 13 quarterback hits on the way to a 26-20 overtime victory at Lambeau Field.
It’s the most sacks the Packers have recorded in a game in franchise history besides an eight-sack outing against Philadelphia in 2004. Green Bay has now registered 16 sacks in its last four games after generating 13 in its first eight.
Matthews (groin) and Clark (ankle) shook off the injuries that sidelined them a week ago against Pittsburgh to spark the effort. Matthews, who had 3½ sacks on the season entering Sunday, led the pass rush with 2½ sacks, his most since Week 16 against Tampa Bay in 2014.
“Coming off a muscle strain, there’s always a hesitancy to really cut it loose, especially as a pass rusher fighting guys who are 300-plus pounds,” said Matthews, whose six sacks are second on the team to Nick Perry’s seven.
“But it felt good. I was able to do a lot of things that I wanted to. Furthermore, it was good to see guys like Kenny out there and making plays, especially in this critical part of the season. We felt good about that and we felt real good about getting after the quarterback.”
Coming off a scary ankle injury against Baltimore two weeks ago, Clark had perhaps his finest showing as a Packer. The former first-round pick racked up seven tackles against the Buccaneers and the first two sacks of his NFL career. Both plays were significant in the final outcome.
His strip-sack of Winston in the second quarter led to fellow lineman Dean Lowry’s 62-yard fumble return for a touchdown, putting the Packers ahead 17-7 with 4 minutes, 31 seconds remaining in the first half.
“That’s my first career sack, and to be able to put points on the board for the defense and have Dean score a touchdown on it, there’s nothing better than that,” Clark said. “We knew going into the game that we had to get to the passer and make plays on Jameis and make plays on this offensive line. They put pressure on us to get after the passer. We had to answer the call.”
Clark left momentarily after getting his ankle rolled up on in the third quarter, but he returned to sack Winston for a second time on second-and-17 with a little more than 1 minute remaining in regulation.
The Packers also received sacks from Lowry, defensive tackle Mike Daniels and inside linebacker Jake Ryan, also the first of his NFL career. The most Winston ever had been sacked in a game prior to Sunday was five times.
Winston threw for 270 yards, but the pressure helped limit his two favorite downfield weapons in Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson, who combined for only four catches for 57 yards.
“I thought it had a huge impact on the game. It limited the passing game,” Matthews said. “They got a lot of their yards on a lot of screens; we didn’t do a good enough job of shutting that down. I thought for the most part, getting after him and constantly being harassed back there definitely has to impact the quarterback and make him second-guess at times.”
Lowry’s Leap:** Lowry was 40 or 50 yards downfield following his fumble recovery of Winston when the second-year defensive lineman started to consider what he might do for a touchdown celebration.
That answer became obvious as soon as Lowry looked up on the big screen and saw his No. 94 jersey charging to the Buccaneers’ end zone.
He was doing a 6-6, 296-pound Lambeau Leap.
“It’s pretty cool,” Lowry said. “I think just being an opportunistic player, that’s kind of what we pride ourselves on, playing hard, getting after it, and once those chances are there, you’ve got to take advantage of it. And I think that’s what we did most of the game, and that’s a good example of my play, too.”
It was Lowry’s first touchdown since returning an interception during his sophomore year at Northwestern. That was only a 19-yard scamper to the end zone.
While Lowry admitted his first Lambeau Leap left a little to be desired as he failed to clear the wall, the importance of the play could not be overstated as the Packers looked to gain the early advantage at home.
“Dean showcased his 5-flat 40,” said Matthews with a smile. “You look at that and say it’s the difference in the game right there. Without a defensive score, it could have been us on the losing end.”
Big block:** The Packers’ special-teams unit gave coordinator Ron Zook the big play he was looking for when linebacker Kyler Fackrell blocked a Bryan Anger punt with 9:53 left in the first half.
The play didn’t go down in the stat sheet as a block since the punt technically made it to the line of scrimmage. Instead, it was listed as a zero-yard punt for Anger, giving Green Bay the ball at the Tampa Bay 45.
The Packers capitalized on the opportunity with running back Jamaal Williams immediately picking up 25 yards on the first play of the series. A few minutes later, he scored on a 1-yard touchdown run to give Green Bay a 10-7 lead.
“I think they were huge,” said Fackrell of the big plays defense and special teams made in the second quarter. “They definitely swung the momentum in our favor with the short field on the blocked punt and then obviously Dean's touchdown. They were huge. They were really necessary plays for us to win.”
Randall outside:** Damarious Randall had found a home recently as the “star” slot cornerback in the Packers’ sub-packages, but stepped up as a boundary defender with Kevin King out with a shoulder injury.
With Davon House working at the other outside post, Randall helped limit Evans and Jackson to four catches on nine combined targets, while safety Morgan Burnett and undrafted free agent Jermaine Whitehead played the slot.
“I have to give it up to those guys outside,” safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix said. “We asked Damarious Randall to take the handful today and play man-to-man against two great receivers and he did a great job.”
Rodgers designated to return: The Packers designated Aaron Rodgers to return from injured reserve on Saturday, enabling the two-time MVP quarterback to practice during the next two weeks. He’d be eligible to be added back to the 53-man roster for the Packers’ Week 15 game in Carolina.
“He healed up pretty quick,” Clark said. “He looked pretty good (at practice Saturday). I’m just happy to see him throwing. Hopefully, we can get him back.”
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