Packers' defense avoids collapse, puts finishing touches on victory

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Clay Matthews didn’t even want to think about what he would’ve felt like had the Green Bay Packers' defense blown Sunday’s game at Jacksonville with another late-game collapse.

That’s because he never considered it a possibility.

Nearly nine months after the Packers blew a coverage on the first play of overtime in the playoff loss at Arizona, the defense came through with a last-minute fourth-down stop to seal the season-opening 27-23 victory against the Jaguars.

“We were thinking about getting a stop,” said Matthews, who registered a sack and a tackle for loss in his first game back at outside linebacker in nearly two years. “I don’t really play the what-if game. But yeah, we’d be sitting here 0-1 and it would suck, especially having played a full 60 minutes.

“We didn’t, and that speaks volumes to our mantra this year, especially on defense, and as a team collectively. We’re really excited about that. We know this will pay dividends moving forward, especially heading to Minnesota with their home opener.”

That mantra, Matthews said, is one word: “Finish.”

Finish plays. Finish drives. Finish games.

And the defense was happy to get the chance right away and squelch any talk that the Arizona collapse still lingered.

It ended with a fourth-and-1 stop with the Jaguars at the Packers’ 14-yard line with 23 seconds left. That came six plays after the Packers thought they ended it with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix's interception that was wiped out by a holding call on Morgan Burnett.

On the final defensive play, Damarious Randall and Micah Hyde were the first to hit Allen Hurns on a receiver screen. Then Burnett and Joe Thomas piled on to finish him off for a 1-yard loss.

"It was huge,” Hyde said. “I think they converted on what, two or three fourth downs on that last drive? So to get off the field on that last one was huge."

Ask the Packers’ offensive players, and they’ll say it should not have come to that. But a woeful series late in the game that quarterback Aaron Rodgers called “a really embarrassing last drive” gave the Jaguars life and the ball with 3:17 remaining.

“We put our defense over the years in those situations too much,” receiver Jordy Nelson said. “As an offense, we’ve got to at least get one first down if not run the whole thing out, especially with the situation with Jacksonville being without timeouts. It’s the perfect situation to need the game. So we’ve got to get better at that. Hats off to the defense. They pulled it out again for us, which they do almost every time we put them in that spot.”

The key word there is "almost."

“It starts us off right,” Packers linebacker Julius Peppers said. “We’re going to build off it, and it was a great start to the season.”