The word “miraculous” was being tossed around a lot as the return of Aaron Rodgers from a broken clavicle was being considered, but it’s less likely a miracle than it is the product of smart surgery, diligent rehab according to a timetable and a little bit of luck.
“I spent the first three days after the injury doing a lot of research, not only on where I wanted to get the surgery, but remedies to increase healing — talked to a lot of people during that time,” Rodgers said Nov. 3, the last time he spoke at length with reporters. “Obviously, a lot of down time now — rabbit holes to go down as far as healing — alternative ways to increasing that time that are obviously natural and legal and safe.”
Rodgers didn’t divulge what his research revealed for competitive reasons, but on Tuesday, nearly eight weeks out from his Oct. 19 surgery, Rodgers announced on Instagram that he has been medically cleared to return to football. “It’s been a long road from that day to this, but I’m happy to say I’ve been medically cleared to return,” he wrote beneath a pre-surgical photo. “Thanks for all the love, support, prayers, and well wishes over the past 8 weeks ❤️ and a big thank you to Dr McKenzie and our incredible training staff. #riseagain”
Along the way in his recovery, there have been rare promising glimpses of him throwing the ball, lofting passes of 50 or so yards and looking for all the world like the quarterback he was before the injury to his throwing shoulder. But the fact remains he will be making a quick turnaround Sunday against the Panthers in Charlotte, and given his style of play and the nature of football, what will happen when he takes a hit or falls on the shoulder? Should he alter his style of play?
“Good question,” Rodgers said after a lengthy pause back in November. “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.”
This right clavicle fracture and the left clavicle break that sidelined him for seven weeks in 2013 came when he was on the move outside the pocket, where quarterbacks are not afforded protection by the NFL rule book. Altering his style of play is a heady subject for a two-time NFL MVP.
“His game outside of the pocket is tremendous, and I don’t think you’d want to take that away from him,” Packers quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said in November. “We’ve just got to encourage him not to take hits. Now obviously that one [that broke his collarbone] was out of his control; both of them were. But that’s a big part of what he does.”
Still, staying healthy is something he can try to control, as New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said Oct. 16, the day after Rodgers was hurt.
“I’d obviously prefer not to [land on the throwing shoulder],” Brady said, “and if I can contort my body in a certain way, I try to. I did, in my second year, have surgery after the season on one of my shoulder joints, just from landing on it. It was a cold field, it was the last game of the year, and [I] ended up having to have surgery on it. Since then, it’s just smart; that’s the one spot where you really can’t afford to have any injury. But it comes up and it’s tough to avoid, and sometimes that’s the luck of football. Sometimes you’re just lucky. Sometimes you’re not. You have to try to — for a quarterback, at least, to land on your right shoulder, there’s probably no place worse to land.”
The odds are that the repair job in Rodgers’s shoulder is going to be tested at some point, a certainty that doesn’t concern Mark Adickes, a former NFL offensive lineman who now is an orthopedic surgeon in Houston.
“I’ve had a lot of patients I’ve done clavicle fractures on. Initially, I was trying to move people back more quickly and, if I had people go back at six weeks, I did have some folks refracture,” he said recently on the Red Zone Channel. “Once someone sat out eight weeks, I’ve never had an athlete refracture.”
Adickes pointed out that the hardware in Rodgers’s shoulder — a plate on the front of the bone and one on the top, secured by perhaps 13 screws — is added insurance. “This is not going to refracture,” he said. “I think he’s going to be ready to go, and I don’t see him being more susceptible to injury if he does get tackled on that right shoulder.”
Now, with the Packers’ playoff trajectory plausible if difficult, Rodgers is poised to abandon his role as enthusiastic sideline consultant and return to the field. He’ll be rested and fresh, something few players can say in December. It just might be worth the risk.
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