GREEN BAY – Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ pregame throwing session at Heinz Field on Sunday night was a planned part of his rehab, but Head Coach Mike McCarthy is still giving no timetable on when he might return to the practice field.
“Everything they’re doing is calculated between the training room, the strength and conditioning room, and Aaron, as you would imagine, he’s going at it 120 miles an hour,” McCarthy said on Monday. “So far, so good.”
Placed on injured reserve Oct. 20 following surgery on the broken collarbone in his throwing shoulder, Rodgers is eligible to return to practice at the end of this week, but McCarthy did not say whether that would happen.
“There are targets they’re trying to hit each and every week,” McCarthy said of Rodgers’ rehab. “It’s segmented. The A-number-one priority is to get him healthy. Practice is not something we’re focused on right now.”
Rodgers is not eligible to play in a game until Dec. 17 at Carolina, at the earliest, which leaves a minimum of two more games for Brett Hundley to run the offense, beginning this Sunday against Tampa Bay.
The unit is going to include second-year pro Jason Spriggs at right tackle for the time being. Spriggs came off injured reserve (hamstring) a little over a week ago and made his first pro start in Sunday night’s loss to Pittsburgh. His performance was solid enough that McCarthy announced he’s staying there for now.
“Some repeated mistakes, we need to do a better job, but he did some really good things in pass protection,” McCarthy said of Spriggs, the 2016 second-round draft pick out of Indiana. “The run game was not as good as his pass protection, but it’s great to have him back out there.”
The backfield also soon could get rookie Aaron Jones back alongside new workhorse and fellow rookie Jamaal Williams.
Jones (knee) has missed the last two games and McCarthy said he may get a “possible trial return” to practice on Wednesday this week.
With Ty Montgomery (ribs) also missing the last two games, Williams compiled 47 touches against Baltimore and Pittsburgh (39 rushes, eight receptions) for 230 yards from scrimmage and two touchdowns.
“I think he’s handling it well,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said of Williams’ hefty workload. “I know he’s excited to get that opportunity. We need to improve and build on some of the success he’s had, but he’s been a very consistent player for us.”
Hundley is suffering no ill effects from the helmet hit he took while getting sacked by Pittsburgh’s T.J. Watt late in the fourth quarter Sunday night. He was checked out and is fine.
McCarthy pointed to Hundley’s decision-making as the facet of his game that improved the most in throwing for 245 yards and three touchdowns, with no turnovers, against the Steelers.
“That will always be the area of game experience there’s no substitute for,” McCarthy said. “The discipline of the position is extraordinary. A small mistake in quarterback play could be a critical error in the game, and that’s what you have to stay away from.
“Clearly his decision-making was much better. I thought he played with a lot of confidence, and he managed a salty environment there with the crowd noise.”
McCarthy also defended his decision to try a 57-yard field goal in the third quarter with a 21-14 lead, saying the Packers “needed the points” with how explosive Pittsburgh’s offense is.
Special teams coordinator Ron Zook confirmed that the kick was at the edge of kicker Mason Crosby’s range, based on pregame warmups. The Packers had been closer, with a first down on the 31-yard line, but two sacks on the next series pushed them back to the 39 on fourth down.
The missed kick gave the Steelers great field position at their own 47, which they converted into a tying touchdown, but McCarthy doesn’t regret the call.
“If I’m guilty of anything, it’s having great confidence in Mason Crosby,” McCarthy said. “I don’t second guess it. It’s a chance to go up two scores.
“The first-, second- and third-down things leading up to the field goal I’m more upset about than anything. That’s where my focus is.”
It’s also squarely on where the Packers stand at 5-6 with five games to play. Given there are seven teams in the NFC with seven or more victories right now, winning out appears to be the only way the Packers can give themselves a chance at a postseason berth.
“Six losses, it is what it is,” McCarthy said. “At the end of the day, if you don’t get to 10 wins, there’s nothing else to talk about. We’re at five. We need to get to six.”