The Green Bay Packers are getting back the “best player in football.”
Just in time to try to be the best team in the NFC North.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy broke the news to his players at the 8:05 a.m. team meeting, then told the football world at about 1:30 p.m.
“(Before last week’s game against Pittsburgh), I felt like he looked he was ready to play, and now I would say he’s ready to play,” McCarthy said. “I mean, he’s throwing the ball very well going on the three weeks. He’s been working his feet, working his conditioning and getting ready for this moment, so, and that moment is here.”
After a few frustrating weeks, Rodgers said he learned the news along with the rest of the team.
“I'm excited to be back with the team,” Rodgers said. “I mean, this is a fun day for me but I think the focus needs to be on this game and the opportunity we have to win the division, which is our first goal every year. We're in it. We have a chance against our rivals and what a better way than to go down there and get some redemption and host a home playoff game.”
The Bears took the news in stride.
“Sounds good,” linebacker Lance Briggs said during a conference call.
The Packers did, too. There was no cheering and high-fiving in the meeting room, players said. Still, they know that with Rodgers back, anything is possible.
“Best player on our team,” receiver James Jones said. “It's huge. He's the $100 million man for a reason. He's probably the most important guy on this team, so we're glad to have him back.”
For weeks, Rodgers has talked about this being a risk-vs.-reward decision. The risk is obvious when dealing with a broken bone that hadn’t healed, with the team’s traditionally conservative medical staff putting on the brakes for the last couple weeks.
At no point, it's worth noting, did McCarthy say Rodgers was medically cleared.
With the reward – a third consecutive division championship and sixth consecutive playoff appearance – at hand, McCarthy said “we feel it is time” for Rodgers to play.
“Aaron has accepted the level of risk for this is probably the third week,” McCarthy said. “This has been a stressful period for him. I think he’s just relieved to play and, frankly, I know from our conversation this morning, it’s time to play football.”
Rodgers, who sustained a broken collarbone against Chicago on Nov. 4, was a full participant at practice for the first time since the injury. About the only slightly competitive portion of practice that was open to reporters was a 7-on-7 drill. In that, Rodgers went 6-for-6. Alternating snaps with Matt Flynn, Rodgers completed a crossing route to Jarrett Boykin against Tramon Williams, an out to James Jones against Davon House, a post to Boykin against Williams, and out-then-in to Jones against Jarrett Bush, a sprintout to Jordy Nelson against House and an out-then-in to practice-squad receiver Alex Gillett.
Rodgers looked himself before practice and between drills, joking with Flynn and playfully doing a sumo wrestler-style stomp. After the seven-on-seven drill, he exchanged high-fives with cornerback Sam Shields.
“I think it’s a great learning experience,” Rodgers said. “Every time you’re faced with some adversity, I think you really take something away from that, and for me it was to be able to step back and look at the team from a different perspective, be on the headset. It’s tough not to be out there with the guys, but I think you learn a lot through the process. You find new ways to lead. You realize how important your attitude and your enthusiasm and the energy you bring to practice can be to the guys. I know they’re excited about my return, but I think that the way they believe in me and the expectations they have in me, I have the same ones for them. I believe in them and have expectations that they’re going to play well. My coming back doesn’t mask over any of that, or doesn’t alleviate pressure on the guys. I think the pressure that we put on ourselves, we can harness at this point and see how good we can really be.”
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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.