Rodgers still not cleared, but Packers are holding out hope

GREEN BAY, Wis. — There is a small sense of hope

within the Green Bay Packers’ locker room that Aaron Rodgers will make his

long-awaited return Sunday. But, after being without their star quarterback for

the past seven weeks, Rodgers’ teammates are tempering their expectations a bit

and remaining cautious in their optimism.

Very little has changed for Rodgers this week. He’s still

not medically cleared from his broken left collarbone, he’s still a limited

practice participant and the Packers are still having to prepare Matt Flynn to

be their starter.

“Aaron is doing better,” coach Mike McCarthy said.

“(It was) a similar work pattern that he did last week. Threw the ball

extremely well. Looked sharp. He’s getting better.”

Green Bay’s wide receivers are enjoying watching Rodgers

continue to look more like his pre-injury self, but with a playoff spot just

two wins away and no certainty that the former NFL MVP returns for those games,

they don’t want to count on him being back.

“He was out there doing some stuff, but obviously,

we’ve said it since he’s been hurt, we’d want him back as soon as

possible,” Jordy Nelson said. “When he’s healthy, he’s the best

quarterback in this game. To say it wouldn’t help us (to get Rodgers back)

would obviously be a lie.

“We want him back when he’s healthy and ready to go,

and look forward to that. And hopefully, if it’s not this week, we can keep

winning and give him another opportunity (to try to be ready for the following

week).”

It’s not that Nelson and the rest of the wide receivers are

clueless about Rodgers’ status. Though they’ve done a good job keeping it

secret, Nelson said “we have a little bit of an idea, just based on how

the week’s going.”

He smirked when asked what feeling he got this week about

Rodgers.

“Got an idea that it’s day one of preparation, went out

and ran some good routes, and got some good balls,” Nelson said.

Rodgers made improvements last week, but he was ruled out

for this past Sunday’s game in Dallas because of what McCarthy said was

“in the best interest” of all parties involved.

There’s an ever-changing flow of beliefs outside the locker

room of will-he-or-won’t-he-play regarding Rodgers. For the players, the

information on Rodgers is usually much more straight forward. But not always.

“I think each week’s been different,” Nelson said.

“You can get a feel for it. We communicate with each other and everything.

It’s not our job to sit here and talk about Aaron and his situation and his

body. That’s why we try to do our best to stay away from that.

“You can just tell (if Rodgers is going to play or

not). You’ve been around the game long enough, you know how things go. You just

have an idea. Our idea might be wrong, to be honest with you. We have no idea

when they’ll make the decision, and you can think one thing (and have the other

happen).”

Nelson added that the only time players talk about Rodgers

is during interviews with reporters.

James Jones has the easiest method of all in figuring out if

it will be Rodgers throwing him the ball in the team’s next game.

“If I want to know if he’s playing, I’ll just go up to

him and ask him,” Jones said.

It took until the sixth game without Rodgers for Green Bay

to pick up a win with a backup quarterback. After Sunday’s improbable comeback

over the Cowboys, the Packers — despite a 7-6-1 record — will claim their

third consecutive NFC North title if they win their final two games.

Flynn’s second-half performance in the win over Dallas has

given Green Bay confidence that it can beat the Steelers and Bears to conclude

the season with or without Rodgers. But, obviously, they’d have a better chance

if those games are played with Rodgers.

“He’s the best player on our team, let alone the best

player in the league,” Jones said. “Our backs up against the wall;

must win these last two games. We definitely must win this one at home, so

we’re going to need Matt to go out there and do what he’s been doing, play the

best game of his career and we need to get a win, um, if he goes out

there.”

The end of that comment from Jones indicates that, at the

very least, the Packers have accepted the possibility that Flynn remains their

quarterback.

“We just need Matt to be Matt,” Jones said.

“Matt is a gamer. We just need Matt to be Matt. Go out there, play your

type of ball and let’s get a win. He don’t need to be nobody else but

Matt.”

Flynn wouldn’t really mind sitting on the bench Sunday,

though, as that would mean the return of Rodgers.

“My mindset is I’m starting,” Flynn said.

“Obviously, we all hope that Aaron plays, but my mindset is I’m starting

just so I can prepare myself.”

McCarthy wouldn’t reveal whether Rodgers has any medical

scan scheduled this week, saying that it’s up to the player to discuss that

information if they choose to do so. Well, Rodgers will speak with reporters

Thursday, so perhaps there will be a more definitive answer then.

“We just want him to get healthy, and hopefully, before

the season’s over, he’ll be back out there,” Jones said.

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