The Green Bay Packers have fought valiantly since Nov. 4 without the services of MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but they will receive a huge boost this week, as he is tabbed to start for the first time since fracturing his collarbone in Week 9 against the Chicago Bears, according to Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy expanded on Rodgers' status and the road he took to return to the Packers' lineup (via Rob Demovosky of ESPN):
MM: Aaron has accepted the level of risk for, this is probably the 3rd week. Been a stressful period for him.— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) December 26, 2013
MM: Aaron's a seasoned pro, extremely productive, knows the offense inside and out. It's just getting back into the details of the offense.— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) December 26, 2013
MM: I'm excited. I feel good for Aaron. I don't think people realize the stress he's been under. He's been on board with playing.— Rob Demovsky (@RobDemovsky) December 26, 2013
There have been plenty of questions regarding Rodgers' status since the injury occurred, and that uncertainty has dominated NFL headlines in recent weeks. It's definitely understandable, because Rodgers is one of the league's best quarterbacks, but it somewhat overshadowed Green Bay's efforts to remain in the playoff hunt.
That changed to a certain extent in Week 15 after the Pack overcame a 23-point deficit to shock the Dallas Cowboys on the road. Quarterback Matt Flynn proved quite capable in Rodgers' stead, but there is no doubt that Packers supporters are thrilled to have Rodgers back in the fold.
As SportsCenter pointed out on Twitter, the Packers have struggled in Rodgers' absence:
The Packers are 5-3 with Aaron Rodgers as starter, 2-4-1 without this season.— SportsCenter (@SportsCenter) December 26, 2013
Many were hopeful that Rodgers would be able to play in that game against the Cowboys, but McCarthy ultimately decided against it after consulting with team physician Patrick McKenzie, via Bob McGinn and Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Speaking with Dr. McKenzie, this is the right decision. Listening to all of the conversation, all of the facts and evaluation, it's in our best interests as a football team, as an organization, for Aaron Rodgers not to play in this game.
I'm definitely OK with it...Hey, it's not the easiest thing to sit there and tell your franchise quarterback he can't play in the game when he wants to play in the game. This is clearly a decision that's made in the best interest of Aaron Rodgers.
After the news broke, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler commented on Rodgers' return (via Peggy Kusinski of NBC Chicago):
The Chicago Bears provided head coach Marc Trestman's take:
LM: Trestman says #Bears expected Aaron Rodgers would play Sunday and "we're prepared for that."— Chicago Bears (@ChicagoBears) December 26, 2013
Prior to the injury, Rodgers was enjoying another spectacular season. The 30-year-old veteran was completing 67 percent of his passes for over 2,200 yards and 15 touchdowns with a quarterback rating of 108. Those numbers aren't easily replaceable, especially for a team that has a shaky defense.
With that said, rookie running back Eddie Lacy has picked up much of the slack in Rodgers' absence. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Alabama product became the Packers' first 1,000-yard rusher since 2009 during Green Bay's win over Dallas.
Eddie Lacy, go-ahead TD; Packers' 1st 1,000-yard rusher since Ryan Grant in 2009— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) December 16, 2013
Lacy's fine play should allow Rodgers to settle in, since all of the pressure won't be squarely on his shoulders. Whether Rodgers can absorb vicious hits is the bigger concern, but feeding the ball to Lacy will definitely keep opposing pass-rushers honest.
Flynn has done a solid job in place of Rodgers, but there is no ample replacement for an elite quarterback. Wide receivers Jordy Nelson and James Jones in particular undoubtedly have to be thrilled that Rodgers is returning, as their usage and production fluctuated between Flynn, Scott Tolzien and Seneca Wallace.
Will the Packers make the playoffs now that Aaron Rodgers is back?
The Packers proved against Dallas that they are a force to be reckoned with, but Rodgers takes things to another level. Green Bay is a tough, competitive team without Rodgers, but it is a Super Bowl contender with him.
Rodgers already has one Super Bowl ring on his finger, and there is no question that he would like to add another.
That is easier said than done with so many dominant teams in the NFC, but Green Bay is receiving a huge emotional lift at the right time. There is definitely something to be said for momentum come playoff time, and the Packers have a ton of it.
They have their work cut out for them in terms of simply making the playoffs, but they'll be a very tough out if they qualify now that Rodgers is back in action.
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