2014 DRAFT GUIDE
Packers try to get better grip on 4th quarters

By GENARO C. ARMAS - AP Sports Writer
    2013-11-14 17:36

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) - Clay Matthews' fingers on his right hand are free.

Maybe that will give the Packers' defense a tighter grasp on shutting down opponents in the fourth quarter.

Green Bay has been outscored 83-46 in fourth quarters this year. It's a season-long problem especially exposed the last two weeks when long drives by the Bears and Eagles chewed away fourth-quarter minutes in victories over the Packers at Lambeau Field.

Last week's game-ending 15-play, 75-yard drive in the final 9:32 of the 27-13 loss to Philadelphia was especially painful.

''We're on the next week,'' Matthews would only say when asked about that finish.

Otherwise, it was a typically colorful Matthews on Thursday. He might be in an especially good mood because he no longer has a large, heavy wrap, or ''club'' encasing his right hand to protect a thumb healing from surgery. He's still wearing a protective cast for the thumb, but it appears as if it will offer Matthews more mobility with his other fingers.

Time to get better grip on shedding blockers.

''I'm hoping with my fingers back, I'll be like a feline who got his whiskers back and then I'll be able to be more spry out there,'' the pass-rushing specialist said Thursday.

A healthier Matthews is always better for the Packers, who have been weighed down by injuries all year.

This week, fellow outside linebacker Nick Perry (foot/ankle) and cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring) have been sidelined again. Defensive tackle Johnny Jolly hasn't practiced yet this week, too, with a groin injury. He said Thursday he would be ready for Sunday's game against the Giants.

LB Mike Neal (abdomen) and DT Ryan Pickett (knee) are two other key defenders on the injury report. Coach Mike McCarthy said earlier this week that the team, in part, hasn't overcome the changes that come with the rash of injuries.

They're also not using injuries as an excuse for the subpar fourth quarters.

''We're always talking about who's not there; we need to focus on what the hell we're doing,'' McCarthy said Monday. He had promised a heightened emphasis on tackling this week.

A lack of turnovers has also hurt. The Packers have just three this season.

''Those interceptions are going to come as long as you play with the right technique doing your job, because when they come, they come in bunches,'' safety Morgan Burnett said about the lack of interceptions.

A lack of picks, though, is a problem the whole game, not just late. Burnett said he doesn't think problems are being compounded in the fourth quarter.

''No it is just do your job, play the defense and put (the Eagles game) behind us and move forward,'' Burnett said.

Same with Pickett, who doesn't think there's ''magic formula'' to playing better late.

Cornerback Davon House said it might come down to mentality. ''Everyone has just got to know and buckle down when it's the fourth quarter,'' he said. ''So it's changing the culture.

''Right now, the Green Bay Packers are known as, when the fourth quarter comes along, we're giving up late scores and late yardage,'' House said. ''I guess it's just a mentality-type thing.''

It's a message especially emphasized on the team this week.

''Oh yeah,'' House said. ''Not just this week, the last couple weeks.''

With quarterback Aaron Rodgers still on the mend from a fractured left collarbone, the margin of error is smaller for the rest of the Packers, no matter the time of the game.

Notes: Center Evan Dietrich-Smith (knee) was limited a second straight day of practice, while RT Don Barclay (knee) missed a second straight practice. The team had ordered a knee brace for Barclay. ''He didn't probably feel as good today as we had hoped. So we'll see how he is tomorrow. I'm going to give him a chance, the full week to try and give it a go,'' McCarthy said. ... Rodgers watched in sweats while watching Scott Tolzien and newly-signed Matt Flynn in practice. Tolzien, who was on the practice squad two weeks ago, is expected to start Sunday against the Giants. ... McCarthy said Hayward could miss a few weeks again after re-aggravating his hamstring injury. Hayward missed the season's first six games with the injury.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org

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Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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