Packers' Rodgers cleared to play against Panthers

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Michael Cohen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Wednesday, December 13, 2017

GREEN BAY--Aaron Rodgers is returning to the Green Bay Packers’ lineup, possibly just in time to salvage their playoff hopes.

Rodgers, sidelined since breaking his right collarbone Oct. 15 at Minnesota, received medical clearance to return for Sunday’s game at Carolina, he said Tuesday night on Instagram. That means Brett Hundley, who went 3-4 in the seven games he started during Rodgers’ absence, will return to his backup quarterback role.

Rodgers posted:

“It’s been a long road from that day to this, but I’m happy to say I’ve been medically cleared to return. 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”

The Packers (7-6) need to beat the Panthers (9-4) and also win their final two games—Dec. 23 vs. Minnesota and Dec. 31 at Detroit—to have any realistic chance of reaching the postseason.

Rodgers will begin on-field preparations for Carolina today when the Packers return to practice. He is eligible to return to the 53-man roster from injured reserve Saturday.

Rodgers underwent a series of scans Monday to reveal the progress of his surgically repaired collarbone. The interpretation of those scans by team physician Patrick McKenzie and several outside specialists dovetailed with input from general manager Ted Thompson to determine whether the risk of further injury was worth the reward of having Rodgers for a playoff run.

The coordination required to gather opinions from around the country likely factored into the delay.

If there was any question about the value of franchise quarterbacks, and in particular elite franchise quarterbacks like Rodgers, the depth of deliberation surrounding his potential return should end the debate. And over the last 48 hours, the aforementioned brain trust probed the conundrum from various angles.

It started with the fairly black-and-white question of whether Rodgers’ collarbone had calcified since two plates and 13 screws were inserted to stabilize the fracture eight weeks ago. Enough time has passed for the bone to heal significantly, though perhaps not entirely, and therein was the gray area open to interpretation by the handful of medical professionals who reviewed the scans. How sturdy must his collarbone be to withstand the punishment of 300-pound defensive linemen or hard-charging linebackers?

There also were football questions that clouded the equation. At 7-6, the Packers must win their remaining three games to have a realistic shot at the playoffs, and even then they could fall short. Risking Rodgers’ throwing shoulder for a run that might not happen certainly prodded the conscience of Thompson, whose conservative tendencies are well-documented in Green Bay.

And one had to wonder how the uncertainty of this week affected Hundley, who would have been called upon to start his eighth straight game if Rodgers hadn’t been cleared. With Sunday’s win over the Cleveland Browns came the cleansing exhale of accomplishing his primary job: keeping the Packers in the postseason hunt until Rodgers was eligible to return. Re-gathering himself emotionally to be the focal point of a playoff push would have been a significant mental hurdle, especially when the three teams left on the schedule have combined records of 26-13—a far cry from the winless Browns.

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