NEW ORLEANS––The Green Bay Packers may have lost their 2012 season opener against the San Francisco 49ers back in September, but it wasn’t because of the effort of Clay Matthews.
Matthews kicked off the season in impressive fashion, notching 2.5 sacks and four quarterback hits while lining up across from Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Staley for the much of the day.
“The first game, he really caught me off guard with his strength, and my technique wasn’t on point,” said Staley this week, reflecting on Week 1 matchup. “Just played a bad game. It’s one of those things that happens.”
As the saying goes, Matthews may have won the battle, but Staley won the war.
The 49ers beat the Packers 45-31 in the divisional round of the NFL playoffs, and Staley did an impressive job in limiting Matthews’ effectiveness.
Staley gave up an early sack to Matthews, but controlled him down the stretch as the 49ers started to pull away.
“I really focused on the technique and came in with a better gameplan the second time to go against him,” said Staley as he prepares for Sunday’s Super Bowl. “We played at home and had a solid game. I don’t know if I can pinpoint one thing I changed, it was just, I was more prepared.”
Staley’s performance is perhaps all the more impressive considering the right arm injury he battled through in the divisional round victory. With his arm extended, Matthews chopped down on Staley’s limb, causing a degree of pain.
Niners offensive line coach Mike Solari agreed with Staley that preparation and film study were the keys to containing Matthews, but it’s also fair to question whether Matthews and company ran out of gas.
“The whole offense was doing a good job moving the ball, keeping the chains moving, so it was really positive,” said Solari.
The 49ers dominated the time of possession 38:01 to 21:59 as San Francisco rolled up 323 rushing yards on Green Bay.
Of those 323, 181 of them came in a record-setting performance by Colin Kaepernick, the most ever by an NFL quarterback in a single game.
Matthews couldn’t get a handle on Kaepernick, but to be fair, none of the other Packers defenders did either. Staley did his job, and the 49ers are now in a position to capture a Super Bowl title because of it.
“Clay Matthews is a fine football player,” said Solari. “He goes so hard, he plays with passion. It just takes a complete game to do a great job finishing Clay, because he keeps coming. And Joe’s that type of player, so it was a great matchup.”
Brian Carriveau is the author of “It’s Just a Game: Big League Drama in Small Town America,” a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and an editor at Cheesehead TV. To contact Brian, email firstname.lastname@example.org.