GREEN BAY – Earlier this week, as one of his patented theme speeches to his team, Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy told his players a fable about an optimist, a pessimist and a realist falling down a hole.
“I don’t know where he got it, if it was some sort of proverb or something,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com Tuesday evening. “The optimist didn’t make it, the pessimist didn’t make it and then the realist, he made it.”
When it comes to Rodgers and his chances of playing against the Detroit Lions in the teams’ Thanksgiving Day showdown at Ford Field Thursday, McCarthy is clearly the realist, having all but ruled Rodgers out Tuesday even though the quarterback took part in his first practice since breaking his left collarbone on Nov. 4 against the Chicago Bears.
“I’m an optimist,” Rodgers said when asked if he, like his coach, was ready to give up hope of playing against the Lions. “So I’m not there.”
Chances are, though, that Rodgers will not play against the Lions, and that his return will likely come Dec. 8 against Atlanta, after a 10-day break between games. After watching his friend and backup from 2008 through 2011, Matt Flynn, rally the team to a 26-26 tie with the Minnesota Vikings last Sunday, Rodgers figures to be a spectator again in Detroit, with Flynn expected to start.
While McCarthy wouldn’t officially name Flynn the starter over Scott Tolzien on Tuesday, he did say Flynn took “the starter’s reps” in practice.
Rodgers, meanwhile, spent Tuesday’s practice taking snaps from practice-squad center Garth Gerhart and doing only the individual drills. He also said he “ran around and did a couple (other) things, but nothing exciting” after the remainder of practice was closed to reporters.
“I felt like I was back on the team today. I felt like I was an actual football player,” Rodgers said of practicing. “It was fun. It was fun to be back out there with the guys. It was a walkthrough-tempo type of practice so I felt that was something I could manage. It’s good to put my helmet back on and feel like I was part of the team.”
Physically, Rodgers reiterated that he has no pain in his collarbone, including when he throws a football. But there’s more to the decision to return than just pain management, he said.
“The issues – which people probably don’t understand, they think, ‘Oh, he has no pain, why doesn’t he play?’ – (are) not that simple,” Rodgers said. “There’s obviously risk-management and then here’s the flexibility and the strength, which are two other components of this injury that have to be where I want them to be in order to play. The flexibility and the strength have been the last to come and we’ll go from there.
“We’re 22 days out from the injury today. Expectations have been high, and I’ve obviously been trying to push it as much as has been reasonable, but it’s a waiting game with broken bones and obviously it doesn’t just affect the bone, it affects the muscles around it and range of motion and the strength you have on that left side and in that shoulder. Obviously I know I’m a right-handed quarterback, but I still need to be able to have strength in that arm.”
Asked if team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie has cleared him to play in a game yet, Rodgers replied, “No.” Rodgers also wouldn’t say whether he’s had any further x-rays or CT scans done on the collarbone.
Rodgers did acknowledge that both McCarthy and McKenzie have some role in making sure he doesn’t push himself too far too soon. At the same time, Rodgers insisted that he knows his limits.
“I respect their opinion, so I obviously listen to them and take all that into account, but I think we’ve come to some agreements during my years as a player and a starter where we might not all agree that it’s right to play, but we agree that the risk is low enough that if I feel good enough to play, I can play,” Rodgers said. “I think that’s kind of the way that we operate. I trust Mike to kind of save me from myself at times, and Doc to be the voice of reason.
“But I know my body better than anybody and it’s just a matter of combining the strength, the flexibility, the lack of pain and the low-risk. And when all those align, then I’ll be back on the field.”
Rodgers said Flynn’s success – he completed 21 of 36 passes for 218 yards and a touchdown to rally the team from a 23-7 deficit in the fourth quarter – has no impact on when he will try to play.
“That doesn’t influence my decision. My decision is based on how I feel and when I’m ready to play, I’ll play,” Rodgers said. “And if I’m not ready, then I’m going to continue to support those guys and get them ready to play. But I was encouraged by Matt.”
After watching Rodgers practice, McCarthy, who on Monday had said he thought Rodgers’ chances of playing against the Lions were “slim to none,” said it’s more like the latter.
“It does not look like Aaron is going to make it,” McCarthy said. “He had a good day. This was a big day actually for him as far as doing throwing and doing some of the things the targets that the training staff wanted to hit with him. They definitely hit it. So, he feels good. But I don’t think he’s going to make it this week.”
Asked if Rodgers’ odds are still slim to none, McCarthy replied: “Closer to none. It’s something to write about. I’m trying to help you out – the drama BS that you guys need. So, there it is, all right?”
When asked if it was important for him to be definitive with Rodgers’ status to protect the quarterback from himself, McCarthy replied, “Well, no. It’s conversation. It’s a conversation that’s been had. You know, hey, I clearly understand Aaron’s role and responsibility here. But this is a medical decision. He’s not quite ready, but he did have good day today. He feels very good about what he accomplished today.”
Even though it appears unlikely that he’ll play, Rodgers’ mere presence at practice certainly lifted the spirits of a team that has gone 0-3-1 since he went out after the first series against the Bears.
“It was good to see him out there,” center Evan Dietrich-Smith said. “Obviously the guy’s been having a rough time because you know he wants to play really bad, but they’re being smart with him, making sure he’s clearing all the medical stuff. But it’s really good to see him out there. I think he has been having a real positive attitude, helping out the guys but you can tell he’s just dying to get back out there.”
Outside linebacker Clay Matthews said Rodgers’ presence and Flynn’s return both will give the team a lift.
“It’s fantastic,” Matthews said. “Obviously it shows he’s getting close to returning. I think just a shot in the arm was really getting Flynn out there and him continuing to do what he did in years prior here. It was good to see that, hopefully he can continue to do that this Thursday. We’re going to need it, especially in such a dire game in which we need this victory.”
And even though the Packers don’t expect to have their leader back Thursday, they haven’t totally given up hope just yet.
“I would be surprised, I guess,” wide receiver Jordy Nelson admitted. “There’s nothing wrong with being surprised, though.”
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.