GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers’ healing left collarbone doesn’t hurt when he throws a football, and it doesn’t hurt when he runs. Is that enough progress for the Green Bay Packers quarterback to play in Sunday’s game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field?
“It depends who you talk to,” Rodgers said during his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com Tuesday. “Have you seen Dumb & Dumber?”
Yes, Lloyd Christmas, we have. And if that’s the basis for your odds, we know that Lauren Holly’s Mary Swanson character gives you a “one out of a million” chance of playing this week.
Nevertheless, Rodgers was alternatingly encouraging and realistic when talking about his collarbone, which he fractured Nov. 4 against the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field at the end of the Packers’ first offensive series. Since he went out, the Packers have lost three games – to the Bears, the Philadelphia Eagles and the New York Giants – and now find themselves at 5-5 with six games to play. If he were to play against the Vikings, Rodgers would be 20 days out from the injury; if he plays in the Packers’ Thanksgiving Day showdown at Detroit on Nov. 28, he’d be 24 days out.
“The biggest issue is not the pain at this point. It is the risk of taking a shot like that and what it would do if it displaced,” Rodgers said. “Obviously it'd be out for the season and worried about any type of complications going forward.”
Considering that he’s been told by team physician Dr. Patrick McKenzie that normal people face a six- to eight-week recovery from the injury, the timeline of playing against the Vikings or Lions seems ambitious. And yet, Rodgers certainly sounded like someone with designs on playing.
Listen to Tuesdays With Aaron – The Aaron Rodgers Show here.
“At this point, it really comes down to risk evaluation and the risk-reward: The risk of displacing it, and having a three- to five-month recovery, compared to if I could actually go through the motions and be effective,” Rodgers explained. “For that to happen, I would have to be on the (practice) field two days before the game. So that would be Friday this week or Tuesday of next week. Practicing. If that's the case, there is a chance. If not, then I will be spectating."
Here is how Packers coach Mike McCarthy answered a question on Monday about his starting quarterback: "Scott Tolzien will start this week. ... Scott Tolzien will go into the week as the starter, just like he did last week.”
“Ambiguous,” Rodgers said.
You could also use that word to describe Rodgers’ prognosis. While seemingly intent on trying to convince McKenzie and the medical staff to clear him sooner than later, Rodgers also acknowledged that the injury really just happened days ago.
“I think we have to at least evaluate where we’re at. We’re 15 days outside of a fractured collarbone,” Rodgers said. “Put that in the context of a normal healing cycle for someone who has had a similar injury to mine, (which is) six to eight weeks.
“So I think you have to put it in that context, regardless of what was out there [in the media]. You have to understand that it is not just a slight injury. Because obviously if it had been, I would be back out on the field. I think my track record proves that. So it's frustrating. It's a time issue.
“But I have proven in the past to be a fast healer, whether it's dealing with a broken finger in college, or the ankle injuries I have sustained or my knee injuries in college and high school, or my shoulder injury (against) Atlanta. I have been able to play through some pain and heal pretty quickly. So it's a race against time. Hopefully providence intervenes at times as well."
Rodgers said he’s only had one x-ray since the tests run immediately following the injury. He also admitted that he’s so anxious to play that he was experiencing an adrenaline rush when he threw passes in pregame warmups at MetLife Stadium last Sunday before watching Tolzien make his first NFL start at quarterback in the Packers’ 27-13 loss.
“I was just feeling like I was a player,” Rodgers said. “You know, you go through the weeks and you just don't feel like you're contributing. And that's a tough position to be in, And I know, there are eight guys on the practice squad who feel that and the seven or eight guys inactive on game day. It's a tough place to be in. You care about it so much and you’ve got so much invested, you want to be a contributor. Even to go out there and throw to Davon House or Jarrett Bush or the receivers in warmups just makes you feel like you’re a player.
“Just being out there is the biggest thing, feeling like you’re part of the team. You know, when I was on [injured reserve] in 2006, the thing you learn – which you can later talk about this with your teammates or be able to relate to them – is what it feels like to be on the injured reserve list. I missed the last, I believe, five or six weeks on IR, and it’s a lonely feeling. You just feel really disconnected from the guys. So when you see a guy like [injured linebacker] Robert Francois or [injured left tackle] Bryan Bulaga, some of these guys who’ve been on the IR, you understand what they’re going through and how difficult it is when you care about what you do. It’s similar when you’re injured and can’t play; it’s different because you can still come back. But it’s still difficult because you can’t be out there with the guys.”
There’s also the issue of how much Rodgers can push the medical staff to accelerate his timeline. Packers Pro Bowl outside linebacker Clay Matthews said after last Sunday’s game that the staff wanted him to keep wearing the bulky club cast over his still-healing broken right thumb but he lobbied hard to wear a traditional fiberglass cast which gave him use of his fingers – and he won.
“So I’m pushing it. It’s a battle. I have countless talks with these doctors, which I hate. It’s how I feel versus how they perceive that I feel. That’s how it is,” Matthews said. “The doctors, they need to protect the investments of the team and the players and what’s in their best interest, but as competitors, as athletes, we want to do everything we can to get on the field. But we have to be smart. I was 99 percent sure I wasn’t going to reinjure my thumb last week. But that possibility was there. He probably thinks the same thing. But there’s no cast you can put on your shoulder.”
Rodgers said he, McKenzie and the rest of the training staff – he mentioned Nate Weir and Bryan Engel by name – will talk this week about how to proceed and that he will likely push them to let him play.
“It's all about trust with Doc and I. I trust him immensely and I respect the heck out of him. I think he does a great job,” Rodgers said of McKenzie. “He's a trusted advisor and a friend. He knows my personality and how I would do anything to be on the field. We have had some conversations about the risks with various injuries that I have had. But I respect the heck out of him and our training staff and they do a great job of getting me ready to be back on the field.
“Nate, Flea and the guys, it's a solid group in there. But obviously there is going to be conversations when you have competitors who desperately want to be out there and be at their best. And they need to be reminded – I need to be reminded – about the risks. That's Doc's job, to be the voice of reason, when you are really hard-headed and you want to be back out there. I appreciate that about Doc. It doesn't mean I'm not going to battle with him about getting back out there. But I do appreciate the way he goes about his business and our training staff.”
Rodgers’ other issue is that, while he won’t admit it, he sees the once-promising season slipping away. The Packers were on a four-game winning streak at the time of his injury and could easily be 7-2 at this point. Instead of leading the NFC North and battling for one of the NFC’s top two playoff seeds, the longer Rodgers sits, the longer the team’s odds are of making the playoffs. No offense to Tolzien, Seneca Wallace or Matt Flynn, he obviously gives the Packers their best chance to win. But he also has to weigh the personal risk involved.
“I’m going to support the guy who’s playing. I’ve always tried to do that and get whoever’s in there starting as ready as I possibly can,” Rodgers said. “It was different when I was a backup to Brett (Favre) because he didn’t need much of anything from me. But when Matt played those couple starts, it was doing as much as I could to make him comfortable. Same thing with Seneca, same thing with Scott – you want those guys to feel comfortable.
“But I think you learn as a backup and as a starter you don’t want someone looking over your shoulder. So that’s the line you toe, giving him enough information and not flooding him with too many things. Scott does a good job of focusing on the important things, very sharp guy. He just needs some reps, he needs some experience. He was on the practice squad a few weeks ago, made his first start last week and really got his first playing time two weeks before that. He’s a young player, you gain confidence through experience and that’s what he needs now.”
The only thing Rodgers could promise Tuesday was that, even if the Packers are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs before he returns, he would not shut it down the rest of the season.
“No,” Rodgers said. ‘It's not my personality. I don't want to do that.”
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.