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Packers’ pass rush picks up steam

Green Bay Packers outside linebacker Clay Matthews (52) sacks Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston (3) Sunday, Dec. 3 at Lambeau Field. (Dan Powers/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin via USA TODAY Sports)

Rob Reischel

The Sports Xchange

GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers had seven sacks against Tampa Bay on Sunday, and that was their most since Week 3 of 2015, a streak of 45 games.

The Packers now have 16 sacks in their last four games after recording 13 sacks in their first eight games.

“That’s how we go into every game,” said defensive tackle Kenny Clark, who returned from a high-ankle sprain and finished with two sacks. “We’ve got to do our best to take a step forward as a defense and try to put more games on our shoulders and try to make more plays for our offense to put them in great field position.”

Clay Matthews led the Packers with 2.5 sacks and now has 14 career games with at least two sacks. Matthews missed the Packers’ Week 12 loss in Pittsburgh with a groin injury and entered with just 3.5 sacks in 10 games this year.

On one of Clark’s sacks, he stripped Buccaneers quarterback Jameis Winston, which led to a 62-yard touchdown return by defensive end Dean Lowry. That was the Packers’ longest fumble return for a touchdown since defensive end Keith McKenzie’s 88-yarder at Pittsburgh on Nov. 9, 1998.

“I thought it had a huge impact on the game,” Matthews said of the pass rush. “It limited the passing game. I thought for the most part, getting after (Winston) and constantly being harassed back there definitely has to impact the quarterback and make him second guess at times.”

RB future is bright

Green Bay may have a two-headed running back situation for future seasons that rivals many of the league’s top backfields.

Rookie Jamaal Williams continued his late-season surge with a career-high 113-yard afternoon. Williams has 303 yards on 80 carries (3.8 per attempt) over the last four games, has three touchdowns in his last two games and has been running like a young Eddie Lacy in recent weeks.

Fellow rookie Aaron Jones returned Sunday from a knee injury he suffered in Week 10. Jones had just one carry, but turned that into a 20-yard, game-winning touchdown run.

Jones still leads the Packers with 390 rushing yards this season and is averaging 5.5 yards per carry.

“Those guys are doing some exceptional things being as young as they are,” right guard Jahri Evans said. “It all starts with their vision. They’re seeing things well.

“We’re able to get a hat on a hat and they’re running hard. They’re not going down on first contact. It’s stuff that coaches preach every day, breaking a tackle. Those two young guys are special and we’re seeing it early.”

Jones, who stayed fresh throughout the game by riding a stationary bike once a quarter for two to three minutes at a time, also believes that he and Williams can develop into one of the NFL’s top tandems.

“I think we can be something great,” Jones said. “We’re two different backs, and both of us have had success. We’ll continue to have success and cheer each other on.”

NOTES: WR Jordy Nelson’s average yards per catch the last two games have been 3.67 and 3.40 yards, the two lowest marks of his career. Nelson had three catches for 11 yards against Pittsburgh in Week 12 and five catches for 17 yards against Tampa Bay Sunday. ... ILB Jake Ryan suffered a neck injury against Tampa Bay and didn’t return. ... WR Randall Cobb didn’t have a reception Sunday.