The Aaron Rodgers Watch, like last week, will continue until at least Friday.
“We’re going to take the week,” coach Mike McCarthy said after Rodgers was a limited participant at Wednesday’s practice. “We’re going to take the same process or a similar process that we took last week.”
Last week, Rodgers practiced on Wednesday and Thursday but barely practiced on Friday after being told he wouldn’t be cleared to play the Cowboys. The plan for this week will start the same: Rodgers figures to practice again on Thursday, then hope for better news when he convenes with McCarthy and team physician Pat McKenzie on Friday.
“Aaron is doing better,” McCarthy said. “He still has not been cleared by the medical staff. He was a limited practice participant, so (it was) a similar work pattern that he did last week. Threw the ball extremely well. Looked sharp. He’s getting better.”
Rodgers has missed six consecutive games since sustaining a broken collarbone against Chicago on Nov. 4.
In his absence, the Packers tumbled out of the playoff race by going 0-4-1. As quickly as the season deteriorated without Rodgers, the team has risen the past two weeks. Comeback wins over Atlanta and Dallas, combined with Detroit’s losses to Philadelphia and Baltimore, have Green Bay controlling its playoff aspirations heading into season-ending games against Pittsburgh and Chicago.
“I don't think it (the Packers’ playoff chances) really influences my thought process any more than playing last week and wanting to be out there last week did,” Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on ESPN Milwaukee on Tuesday. “I felt good in practice (last week) and a decision was made about my status, collectively, but more on an organizational level -- which I understood. It didn’t mean I was happy about it. But, I understood. I've got a lot of respect and trust in Pat McKenzie, I think he does an incredible job for us, but that doesn't mean I'm not going to battle him, though.”
With Rodgers’ uncertain status, Matt Flynn is running the starting offense at practice for the fourth consecutive week.
“I don't know (if I’m going to start). I'm going to prepare like it,” Flynn said. “My mind-set is I'm starting. Obviously, we all hope that Aaron plays, but my mind-set is I'm starting just so I can prepare myself.”
Flynn threw for 299 yards and four touchdowns in the comeback win at Dallas and, in back-to-back weeks, has guided the Packers to their two biggest second-half comebacks of the McCarthy era.
“Matt is a gamer,” receiver James Jones said. “Matt’s not worried about y’all. Matt’s a gamer. He’s been doing this his whole career. He comes in the game. He has ice in his veins. That’s the new Matty Ice over there. He has ice in his veins. He just comes out and plays ball. That’s just what he does. We have 100 percent confidence in Matt to get the job done and go out there and help us win.”
Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said his defense is preparing to face the Packers’ offense, in general, and will make adjustments as necessary, depending on who’s at quarterback.
“It doesn’t appear that they’ve changed much schematically, regardless of who’s in the game,” Tomlin said during a conference call.
Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger understands the decision confronting Rodgers and the Packers.
“It’s tough because you want to do the right thing for the team by letting yourself heal so that you can come back and be prepared,” Roethlisberger said during his conference call. “I’ve come back too early with my ankle that I had a couple of years ago, so you want to be careful not to come back too early, but it kills you as a competitor and as a teammate because you want to be out there with your guys competing every week.”
Rodgers would provide a shot in the arm, obviously. The Packers would be eliminated if they were to lose to Pittsburgh and Chicago would win at Philadelphia.
“He’s the best player on our team let alone the best player in the league,” Jones said. “Beyond football, you just want to see him get healthy. Everybody wants to see him back out there. You want to see him get healthy. In the meantime, we have to do what we have to do. Our backs (are) up against the wall, must-win, these last two games. We definitely must win this one at home, so we’re going to need Matt to go out there and do what he’s been doing play the best game of his career and we need to get a win if he goes out there.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.