Return of Clay Matthews, Kenny Clark (and Aaron Rodgers?) a huge boost for Packers

Packers can be scary with Rodgers (0:50)

Jeff Saturday says Aaron Rodgers' "dynamic" ability can make Green Bay a force to be reckoned with if he returns later in the season. (0:50)

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Clay Matthews, like the rest of his Green Bay Packers teammates, watched something remarkable Saturday.

They saw Aaron Rodgers, who was cleared to practice for the first time since his Oct. 19 collarbone surgery, unleash Hail Mary passes during the end-of-game simulation portion of practice.

“It actually was pretty impressive,” Matthews said. “We have a warm-up line in which the offense [and] defense gets involved, and he was throwing just as high, if not higher, than what you saw in Detroit a couple years ago. I don’t know, I’m not the head coach, I don’t know what his scans say, but he looks good.”

So did Matthews and the rest of the Packers’ pass rushers in Sunday’s 26-20 overtime victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Lambeau Field. It was a much-needed performance on a day when Rodgers’ fill-in, Brett Hundley, managed just 84 yards passing against the 32nd-ranked pass defense in the NFL.

Matthews accounted for 2.5 of the Packers’ season-high seven sacks -- one short of the team record -- and probably could have been given another half on the second of Kenny Clark's two sacks, which were the first two of his career.

Matthews went into the game with only 3.5 sacks all season and only one since Week 4. He missed the previous game against Pittsburgh because of a groin injury.

“It was great to have him back,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “He’s so disruptive as a player. He’s an impact player and has been for a long time here.”

Clark’s first sack turned into points when Jameis Winston fumbled right into the hands of defensive end Dean Lowry, who returned it 62 yards for a second-quarter touchdown.

The Packers played the previous week without both Matthews and Clark, who had an ankle injury.

“It was huge,” Lowry said of their return. “They both had sacks today. Any time you can get pressure on the quarterback, that’s huge for, I think, just translating into victories. Kenny, I think just the way he battled a week after having an ankle sprain was really special. He’s been a great player for us all year.”

Perhaps after next Sunday’s game at Cleveland, they’ll get another great player back in Rodgers. It was Matthews who last week made the comment that Rodgers looked so good in his rehab work that the Packers “probably should have kept him off IR.”

“He’s kind of carried this team for the better part of 10 years, but for us to kind of grind these games out and, specifically speaking about the defense, understanding what we are, and trying to force turnovers, like three last week, and that touchdown that Dean had this week, I think we realize we have to find a way to steal a few plays here and there,” Matthews said. “Hopefully that pays dividends when he is, if he is able to come back, just because I think we’ve had to overcome a lot of adversity. But we’ll see what that means when and if he does come back.”