Rodgers still not cleared, but Packers are holding out hope

Rodgers still not cleared, but Packers are holding out hope

Published Dec. 18, 2013 3:47 p.m. ET

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

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

"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

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

The end of that comment from Jones indicates that, at the
very least, the Packers have accepted the possibility that Flynn remains their

"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

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.