In the final moments of the third quarter in the Packers' impressive 22-9 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday, Matthews came off the edge for a sack of quarterback Matthew Stafford. It was his final play of the game.
ESPN, among others, is reporting that the injury is a broken thumb and that sources are telling them that surgery is the likely avenue towards recovery.
The need for surgery would definitely lengthen the recovery timetable.
The well-informed and typically reliable Adam Schefter of ESPN shed some light on how long this could keep Matthews off the field:
Packers LB Clay Matthews still is undergoing more testing, but he is expected to miss one month with a broken thumb.— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) October 7, 2013
Meanwhile, ESPN passed along this quote from Packers coach Mike McCarthy:
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.
While I think we've all seen players on the field with a giant ball of protection resembling a club guarding injured hands, surgery on the thumb would not allow for Matthews to play instantly with that kind of protection.
And if the Packers legitimately fear Matthews is in jeopardy of missing the season, they could use their unused injured reserve/designated to return spot on Matthews. This would require that Matthews sit out at least six weeks, but they would be able to fill his roster spot in the meantime.
Matthews was slowed by a hamstring injury in Week 3 in a loss to the Bengals, but he avoided missing any game time with the Packers having a Week 4 bye.
So far this season, the 27-year-old has 18 total tackles, three sacks and two forced fumbles. That is a lot of production to lose out of a defense that ranks 25th in passing.
While this is a big blow for the Packers, it is not the end of the world.
Last week, second-year linebacker Nick Perry was benched in favor of converted defensive end Mike Neal at left outside linebacker. As a result, Perry was able to fill in for Matthews at the right outside linebacker position when Matthews was hurt.
Perry looked fantastic coming off the right side and he finished the game with two sacks. Meanwhile, Neal finished the game with six total tackles and a sack.
Even with Matthews' injury and the slow start to the season, it is too early to give up on this Packers defense.