As birthdays go, this wasn’t a particularly bad way to mark one. Especially for a two-time NFL MVP.
Aaron Rodgers turned 34 on Saturday and practiced for the first time since breaking his right collarbone Oct. 15, reaching another mile marker if he is to play again this season. Several more remain, with few of them within Rodgers’s control.
The quarterback, who was placed on the injured reserve list (designated to return) the day after having two plates and a number of screws inserted in the collarbone of his throwing shoulder Oct. 19, elated Packers fans by showing off his arm strength before the game last week in Pittsburgh, but the earliest he would be eligible to return under IR rules is in two weeks after resuming practice. Which means that the Week 15 game against Carolina, on Dec. 17, is the date with a bull’s eye on it. If he doesn’t return then, he would have to be activated against the Vikings on Dec. 23 or he would not be able to play again this season.
Rodgers’s display last week featured approximately 40 passes (some of 30 and 50 or so yards), but, because the Packers’ Saturday practice is closed to reporters, it is unclear how much or how well he did on that occasion. Most of his work was expected to be limited to the scout team and individual drills.
“You saw him throwing out there in Pittsburgh,” quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said last week. “He’s doing well. He’s getting healthy, and he’s following right along in rehab. He’s probably ahead of the curve a little bit, but there’s really not anything to talk about until there’s something to talk about.”
Which pretty much echoes Rodgers and brings us back to the recovery steps that were laid out when he was hurt. One hurdle is a CT scan that will reveal whether the bone has healed. Because scans impede healing, those are used conservatively and he will not be scanned until after the Dec. 10 game against the Browns. That means Dec. 11 at the earliest.
“First of all, I want to be healthy; that’s the most important thing,” Rodgers said in early November. “But if we’re healthy in eight weeks [after the injury] and it would make sense to come back, then I’m going to come back.” He added that, like when he broke his other collarbone in 2013, “there won’t be a decision made until that bone is healed, so it’s not even a conversation if it’s not where it needs to be.”
And finally the Packers need to be in a playoff push to justify the risk to Rodgers. The team helped its cause with 26-20 overtime victory over Tampa Bay on Sunday and play the winless Browns next week in Cleveland. After that, the Packers face the Panthers, Vikings and Lions, possibly with Rodgers.
If he is back, how will the team protect him? And can he protect himself? Would he alter his style of play in the short or long term? He was on the move outside the pocket, left vulnerable because rules don’t apply to protect quarterbacks on the run, when he was hurt. In November, he was asked if he might consider changing his style to prevent another hit like the one that broke his collarbone, from the Vikings’ Anthony Barr. He gave a lengthy pause before answering.
“Good question,” Rodgers said at the time. “I haven’t thought about that a whole lot. But what comes to mind right away is no. But I might need to think about that the next eight weeks.”
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