The Carolina Panthers were having nothing to do with the “Aaron Rodgers returns” story line Sunday.
With the Green Bay Packers quarterback playing for the first time since having surgery to repair a broken collarbone a little over eight weeks ago, the Panthers’ defense was smothering and Rodgers, well, Rodgers looked for most of the game as if he’d spent eight-plus weeks in intense rehab. Many of his passes were short, the timing with his receivers was off and, in the end, he had his first three-interception day since 2009. The Panthers won, 31-24.
It didn’t help Rodgers that one of his favorite receivers, Davante Adams, was knocked out of the game with a nasty helmet-to-helmet hit by Thomas Davis midway through the third quarter. Davis, for his part, appeared distraught on the sideline as Packers personnel tended to Adams, who left the field without assistance and was ruled out a concussion.
Earlier this season, Adams spent a night in the hospital after a brutal hit by Danny Trevathan of the Chicago Bears on Sept. 28.
With the loss, the Packers’ playoff hopes are all but over, with a victory by Atlanta on Monday night extinguishing them. Not even Rodgers, who looked like a guy who had two plates and a number of screws placed in his shoulder two months ago, could ride to the rescue. Rodgers finished with an un-Rodgers-like line, completing 29 of 45 passes for 290 yards and three touchdowns. The downside, those three interceptions, a number of underthrows and three sacks. Still, the Packers were in the game late, driving for what could have been a touchdown to force overtime until Geronimo Allison, in for Adams, fumbled at the Panthers’ 28.
As far as Rodgers and the Packers’ situation goes, the game raises the question of what will the Packers do next week, with a home game against the Minnesota Vikings looming? Do you play Rodgers in what could be a meaningless game against Anthony Barr, whose hit broke his collarbone? He showed Sunday that he could take hits to his shoulder, but why risk it for nothing? Coach Mike McCarthy wouldn’t say, but Rodgers admitted he was sore and see how he feels Monday.
“It’s not the fairy tale we were hoping [for],” Rodgers said “As I lay in that surgery bed eight weeks ago thinking about this moment, obviously I saw it going a little differently.”
Top story lines
The biggest game: The New England Patriots (11-3) bolstered their chances of earning a playoff bye with a 27-24 win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. The fiercely competition game didn’t end without controversy over, what else, the NFL’s indecipherable catch rule.
The Steelers (11-3), who lost star wide receiver Antonio Brown to a calf injury in the first half, had a touchdown overturned on review with 28 seconds left on the clock. Tight End Jesse James caught the ball outside the end zone and extended the ball across the plane, but the ball turned upon contact with the ground. Official Tony Corrente said the ball “did not survive the ground.”
Ben Roethlisberger threw an interception two plays later during a fake-spike play.
Out West: The Los Angeles Rams seized control of the NFC West with a superlative-filled rout of the Seattle Seahawks. The final score read 42-7, but the game was far from that close. Todd Gurley rushed for 152 yards — 144 of which came in the first half — and scored four total touchdowns before being pulled midway through the third quarter.
The Chargers go to pieces: The Los Angeles Chargers “kind of fell apart,” Philip Rivers admitted after the team’s 30-13 loss Saturday night in Kansas City delivered a big blow to their hopes of winning the AFC West. Rivers was intercepted three times and the Chargers had turnovers on four consecutive possessions after taking a 13-10 lead in the third quarter.
“We kind of fell apart in a sense, I guess,” Rivers said. “We’ve just got to execute. Again, just what we talked about during the last four games, not turning the ball over and getting takeaways, we were the opposite of that today. We turned the ball over too many times in this environment.”
In Saturday’s other game, the Detroit Lions moved to 8-6 with an NFC North victory over the Chicago Bears. Matthew Stafford threw two touchdown passes in the 20-10 victory that kept the Lions a half-game out of the NFC’s final wild-card spot.
A McCoy milestone: Bills running back LeSean McCoy became the 30th NFL player to rush for over 10,000 yards with a 14-yard gain the second quarter against Miami.
A brief celebration: The Packers did have a stellar touchdown celebration in the first half.
In other news
Another coaching change? The Bengals’ Marvin Lewis reportedly is poised to step down as coach. (Read more.)
“Hope you get your neck snapped”: Anthony Barr feels the hate from his October hit on Aaron Rodgers. (Read more.)
The NFL investigates: The league will look into troubling allegations of workplace misconduct by Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson. (Read more.)
“The demons” are always a breath away: Larry Johnson, convinced he has CTE, battles self-destructive impulses. (Read more.)
Roger, over and out? NFL owners are paying Roger Goodell with a contract extension, but are they really behind him? (Read more.)
RGIII Redux: Former Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III says he turned down offers from two NFL teams before the season. (Read more.)
Aftermath of a scary hit: Tom Savage needed better protection before and after a hit left him dazed and shaking on the field. (Read more.)
Who’s hurting? Who isn’t? This NFL season has been all about injuries to big names. (Read more.)
Story lines: Five to follow in Cardinals-Redskins game. (Read more.)
No Fournette: Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette will miss Sunday’s game against Houston with a quadriceps contusion. He’ll be replaced by Chris Ivory.
Key players ruled out for late-afternoon games:
Chris Hogan (shoulder)
Joe Haden (fibula)
Fantasy football advice
Week 15 Cheat Sheet: The choicest advice from around the Internet. (Read more.)
Best/worst matchups: Nick Foles makes for a good matchup this week. (Read more)
Five moves you must make for Week 15: If you were smart, you added Aaron Rodgers last week like we told you. This week, we suggest you move on Jimmy Garoppolo. (Read more)
Week 15 Start/Sit: Mike Evans is a bust, so sit him. (Read more.)
The Fantasy Football Beat: Which players to start and which to sit in Week 15. (Listen.)
The top trends and insights from Las Vegas. (Read more.)