GREEN BAY, Wis. - Dom Capers thinks he might have figured out the secret to keeping Clay Matthews healthy.
"I told him he's going to have to stop sacking the quarterback because the last two weeks, he's injured himself sacking the quarterback," the Green Bay Packers defensive coordinator said of his four-time Pro Bowl outside linebacker in a moment of gallows humor Monday.
Yes, the Green Bay Packers know what life is like without Matthews, and they're bracing themselves again for being without him after Matthews broke his thumb during Sunday's 22-9 victory over the Detroit Lions at Lambeau Field.
Matthews, who left the Packers' pre-bye loss at Cincinnati on Sept. 22 with a hamstring injury he suffered while forcing his second fumble of the game on a hit on quarterback Andy Dalton, injured his thumb on the final play of the third quarter, when he came unblocked and sacked Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford for a 12-yard loss.
Matthews grabbed for Stafford with his right hand and then hit the hand on the ground and he finished the play. Afterward, Matthews could be seen looking at his hand before coming off the field, and when he came to the Packers sideline, he reached across his face to unsnap his chinstrap on the right side of this helmet with his left hand. He was then taken to the locker room for x-rays by the Packers' medical staff.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said in his usual day-after-the-game news conference Monday afternoon that Matthews was at a doctor's appointment being examined and that he was unsure how long his star defensive player would be sidelined.
"All the information's not in yet," McCarthy said. "I really don't have anything to announce there."
Asked if he thought the injury was season-ending, McCarthy replied, "I'm hopeful it's not season ending. I think we're all hopeful, but you have to get all the opinions and make sure you always do right by the player."
Shortly after McCarthy made those comments, ESPN's Adam Schefter reported that Matthews is expected to miss one month and that surgery was considered likely. Later, an NFL source told ESPNWisconsin.com that his understanding is that Matthews will indeed need surgery but that the timeline for how long he'll be sidelined is unclear.
At the very least, it appears Matthews will miss next Sunday's game at defending Super Bowl-champion Baltimore. After playing all 16 games as a rookie in 2009, when he missed most of training camp with a hamstring injury, Matthews missed one game with a hamstring injury in 2010. In 2011, he was a healthy inactive for the meaningless regular-season finale against Detroit after the Packers had locked up home-field advantage for the playoffs, but he missed four games last season with a hamstring injury before returning from the layoff and recording seven sacks in the next five games (including playoffs).
If Matthews is going to miss at least six weeks, the Packers could place him on injured reserve with the designation to return. Then again, perhaps he could be back sooner and could play wearing a protective club cast on his right hand.
Without Matthews, who had five tackles and a sack in Sunday's game, the Packers played Mike Neal and Nick Perry as their outside linebackers. Neal, a converted defensive end, finished with a sack and six tackles; Perry, the team's first-round pick last year whose season ended after six games because of wrist surgery, finished with two sacks and five tackles; Neal had one sack and six tackles.
"The one encouraging thing to me is, I think Mike Neal has made really good strides. I think you saw him play his best game yesterday, I think you saw Nick Perry play his best game yesterday," Capers said. ‘And that's the nature of this business.
"Not knowing (Matthews') status and what's going to go on there, we need for Mike Neal and Nick Perry to be ready to play next week the way they played this week. Because they played their best football this week."
Meanwhile, the Packers apparently aren't overly concerned about the hamstring injury suffered by starting inside linebacker Brad Jones. After Jones left Sunday's game with the injury, he was replaced by backup Robert Francois, who suffered a ruptured Achilles' tendon later in the game.
Francois was placed on season-ending injured reserve Monday, but rather than replacing him with another inside linebacker, the Packers instead called up cornerback James Nixon from the practice squad. That leaves them with three other inside linebackers besides Jones – fellow starter A.J. Hawk, veteran backup Jamari Lattimore and rookie seventh-round pick Sam Barrington.
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on "Green & Gold Today" on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.