GREEN BAY—Even though Aaron Rodgers returned to the practice field on Tuesday, his chances of playing Thursday moved away from slim and “closer to none,” according to Head Coach Mike McCarthy, as Matt Flynn took the starter’s reps during the Packers’ jog-through workout.
“It does not look like Aaron is going to make it,” said McCarthy, explaining that Rodgers did only individual drills to hit some “targets” in his rehab. “He had a good day. This was a big day actually for him.
“He feels good, but I don’t think he’s going to make it this week. This is a medical decision and he’s not quite ready.”
That didn’t stop Rodgers’ teammates from getting a bit of a lift, just seeing him back in his customary red No. 12 practice jersey inside the Don Hutson Center.
“It was motivating to see ‘12’ out there today,” tight end Andrew Quarless said. “That’s our leader. He was running around, cracking jokes, same A-Rod. He definitely brings the right energy back to practice.”
So what do his teammates think of Rodgers’ chances to play?
“I would be surprised,” receiver Jordy Nelson said, before cracking a smile. “Nothing wrong with being surprised, though.”
That said, it’s almost certain the ball will go to Flynn at Ford Field, the same stadium in which he had a very rough but valuable regular-season debut off the bench three years ago.
McCarthy admitted on Tuesday he “pushed the envelope too much” with Flynn in that game, and the former seventh-round draft pick and national championship QB at LSU was a different player the following week at New England and the following year against Detroit again, which represented his two previous NFL starts for the Packers.
His recall of McCarthy’s offense has been swift since returning to Green Bay less than a month ago, and he’s still hitting the playbook hard.
“I feel good with the playbook, feel good with the game plan. I feel ready to go,” Flynn said. “I’m light years ahead of where I would be three weeks into any other system, obviously, just because of the time I spent here.”
The Packers appear to be making similarly rapid progress on the injury front, as several players who have been out the past week or two could be on track to play.
Cornerback Sam Shields (hamstring) and defensive end Johnny Jolly (groin) were listed as full participants in Tuesday’s workout, while offensive tackle Don Barclay (knee) and outside linebacker Nick Perry (foot/ankle) were limited.
McCarthy said more would be known about all of them on Wednesday, when the team goes more full speed in practice.
But the signs are positive nonetheless, especially on defense, which has missed Jolly and Perry against the run and could use Shields’ cover skills against Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson.
Johnson is Detroit’s playmaker, but the run defense is the bigger concern, having surrendered more than 170 rushing yards in three of the last four games. The bad month has plummeted the Packers in the league rankings from fourth against the run to 19th.
“That’s just not us,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “That’s not how we’ve been playing. We just have to get back to how we were playing before. What better week to start than this week.”
Added fellow lineman Mike Daniels: “We have to stop talking and just do it. Just do it.”
Winless since Rodgers went down, the Packers have needed their defense to raise its game, but it hasn’t happened. Six sacks last Sunday, including two by Clay Matthews, were more than offset by 237 combined rushing yards from Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart.
The potential reinforcements this week can only help the depleted unit, whose tank appeared on empty in overtime against the Vikings. Given the comeback abilities the Lions have displayed this season, scoring late TDs to pull out close wins against the Bears and Cowboys in the last month, the defense will have to find a way to finish if the chance is there.
“With the injuries on this team and where we’re at, it’s time for the defense to step up,” Matthews said. “We’ve shown flashes, but we need to string together a full game.” Additional coverage - Nov. 26