Aaron Rodgers to start vs. Bears
At 8:05 Thursday morning, Packers coach Mike McCarthy announced during a team meeting that Rodgers would return for Sunday's game, which will determine the NFC North champion.
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"We were sitting in the team room, and he told us," Rodgers said. "That was the scene."
McCarthy's announcement ended weeks of speculation about whether Rodgers would return at all after breaking his collarbone Nov. 4 in this season's first meeting with the Bears.
"Every football player that plays in this game Sunday will have risk. I think we all understand that," McCarthy said. "So we've done our due diligence, we've gone through all the evaluations, and we feel it is time. Aaron is ready to play."
Rodgers returned to practice a month ago on a limited basis while waiting for clearance from team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie. McCarthy on Thursday would not discuss the process the team went through this week.
"I don't really want to get in to all of that," McCarthy said. "Frankly, there was a lot of discussion. I think anybody that knows our history, the people involved in those discussions, clearly understands that it was going to be talked about it, talked about again, talked about it over again, and so forth. That's why we've taken the time to get to this decision."
Rodgers was a full participant in practice Thursday for the first time since he broke his left collarbone on the opening series of the 27-20 loss to the Bears last month. Despite going 2-4-1 in the seven games that the former league MVP was sidelined, the Packers (7-7-1) can win the NFC North by beating the Bears (8-7) on Sunday.
McCarthy said he had hoped to have a decision made Tuesday, but the final medical evaluations had not yet been completed. The team was off Wednesday for Christmas, and this was the first bit of news it received when it returned to work.
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"To be honest with you, I feel good for Aaron," McCarthy said. "I don't think people realize the stress he's been under. He's been on board with playing for quite some time now. We were holding him out of the game, and that's tough. That's a tough thing to go through.
"It's the first time I've ever been through it, especially at this extent, especially with Aaron Rodgers. We're talking about the best player in football, and just to see what he had to go through. Yeah, I feel good about it."
Rodgers would not say whether he will have to wear added protection under his pads to help avoid re-injuring his collarbone.
"I read a great quote by Kobe [Bryant], actually, recently," Rodgers said. "He was talking about his injury and how when you're injured it heightens kind of your awareness of that injury. But when you get back on the court or the field, it's all about performing and trying to block that out.
"I think that's the easy part when you're out there. It's easy to talk about it with you guys and understand the risks. But when you're out on the field, it's about performing and playing and not worrying about it."
As if having a playoff berth on the line Sunday wasn't enough, the announcement of Rodgers' return provided an added boost Thursday.
"The last few weeks have kind of been a guessing game," Packers left guard Josh Sitton said. "I guess it probably took us by surprise a little bit. The last few weeks, there's always been a glimmer of hope that he was going to play. It was nice to hear that."
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The Packers have been riddled by injuries. Linebacker Clay Matthews is out again with a right thumb injury, and running back Eddie Lacy is hobbled by an ankle injury, though McCarthy is optimistic about the rookie's chances to go Sunday.
"I feel Eddie is in good place," McCarthy said. "I expect him to play."
Still, the Packers managed to start 5-2 despite the injuries with Rodgers leading the offense.
Things changed drastically after the 2011 NFL MVP got hurt after being sacked while scrambling out of the pocket in the Week 9 loss to Chicago at Lambeau Field. The Packers went on a five-game winless skid, shuffling through three more starting quarterbacks.
Green Bay then won two straight with backup Matt Flynn before falling 38-31 last week to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Losses by Chicago and the Detroit Lions set up the winner-take-all finale Sunday with the Bears for the division and a home playoff game the following weekend.
Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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