GREEN BAY – What had been almost exclusively been described as a medical decision – before being repeatedly described as an organization decision might have morphed into a football decision as the Green Bay Packers’ postseason hopes crystallized on Sunday night.
Either that, or Aaron Rodgers is on the cusp of the medical clearance he’s been begging for.
Thanks to the Chicago Bears’ 54-11 blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Packers’ 38-31 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday – the seventh full game the Packers had played without their starting quarterback – was rendered meaningless, and the playoff picture became simple: The winner of next Sunday’s regular-season finale between the Bears (8-7) and Packers (7-7-1) will earn the NFC North title and a first-round playoff game at home.
And Rodgers, based on coach Mike McCarthy’s sudden variation of the team’s verbiage regarding the QB’s fractured left collarbone, just might be back in the lineup for it – if he and general manager Ted Thompson are the ones making the call.
“This is something I think clearly after seeing Aaron practice for two weeks, this is something Ted Thompson and I need to sit down and we need to assess all the information and to decide if it’s time for him to play,” McCarthy said Monday. “Aaron wants to play, has wanted to play for the last couple of weeks. He fully accepts [and] understands everything going on with his injury, so this is really a decision for Ted Thompson and I, representing the organization. That’s how it works.”
When asked to clarify whether Rodgers had been medically cleared – after all, nowhere in that answer did McCarthy mention team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie – McCarthy didn’t say.
“That’s all part of the conversation. We’re still gathering information today,” McCarthy replied. “There’s testing and things to get done, so we’re still working through that. I, personally, haven’t talked to Dr. McKenzie yet. He left for surgery. We’re working through it.”
McCarthy also said at the start of the press conference Monday that there has been “a lot of conversation going on with Aaron and obviously Dr. McKenzie and Ted Thompson and I. We’re working through that. I do not have anything to announce today. Hopefully we can get the question answered sooner than later. We’re still working that.”
Rodgers suffered the injury Nov. 4 against the Bears – 50 days ago – and has been pushing to play for the past two weeks. He began practicing in advance of the team’s Dec. 8 game against Atlanta but experienced too much pain in his shoulder and knew he wasn’t ready. But he practiced pain-free before the team’s Dec. 15 game at Dallas and Sunday’s loss to the Steelers but could not get medical clearance from team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie.
It’s possible that McKenzie will grant Rodgers his wish and medically clear him Tuesday, which would allow him to practice and get the required first-team snaps in 11-on-11 periods that backup Matt Flynn received last week. Because of the Christmas holiday, the Packers are only practicing on Thursday and Friday. McCarthy intimated that they’d be doing a walkthrough-style practice on Tuesday in the team’s new football facility inside Lambeau Field.
McCarthy repeatedly emphasized Monday the importance of making a decision on Rodgers “sooner than later” this week, having dragged out the decision in previous weeks and waiting to officially rule Rodgers out every Friday. Whether McCarthy did that to keep opponents guessing or to give Rodgers every opportunity to gain clearance is unclear, but it certainly appeared the team had made up its mind to go with Flynn early in the week last week.
“I think No. 1 for the football team and also Aaron Rodgers, I think it’s important for us to make a quicker decision,” McCarthy said. “This has obviously been frustrating and stressful for Aaron, rightfully so, but also our football [team]. I want them to know who the quarterback’s going to be.”
Rodgers is scheduled to do his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com at 1:30 p.m. CST. Players were not available to reporters Monday, and Rodgers did not speak with the media following Sunday’s game.
“I think there has to be on some level the risk-reward conversation,” Rodgers said on the radio show last week. “You have to base that off of the evidence you see on the scan, but also how I'm feeling and if I'm able to do normal football movements without pain. That obviously goes into the equation.
“Now a few weeks ago, that wasn't in the equation because I had pain. Last week, I felt more like myself, I think the guys would say I looked like myself out there and I knew I was closer.”
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.