GREEN BAY – It’s going to take more than just the return of Aaron Rodgers for the Packers to make a serious playoff push.
But however much responsibility needs to be heaped on Rodgers, the two-time MVP quarterback is ready for it, regardless of the fact that he hasn’t taken a game snap in two months.
“There’s an expectation of the way I play on Sunday and how I’m going to play. I enjoy those expectations,” Rodgers said following Wednesday’s practice, one day after medical clearance has paved the way for him to play in Carolina. “I enjoy meeting those or exceeding those. That’s what it means to be a leader in this locker room and the quarterback of this team.
“But I’m not coming back to save this team. I’m coming back to play quarterback the way I know how to play it and hopefully we all raise the level of our play collectively and find a way to win these three games.”
That’s what the Packers need to do – win three games, plus get a little help – to qualify for the postseason again.
Since a last-second loss in Pittsburgh in Week 12 dropped the Packers to 5-6, they’ve been playing with their backs against the proverbial wall. A seventh loss would end virtually all hopes of nabbing a playoff spot, and it took back-to-back overtime triumphs with backup QB Brett Hundley just to get to this point.
Now it’s on Rodgers to take it the rest of the way, beginning Sunday in Carolina, and he believes the Packers can get the job done.
“Because we’ve done it before,” he said. “We did it last year. We were 4-6, and a lot of people counted us out. I saw something that we have 750-to-1 odds to make the playoffs. We’ve never shied away from those type of circumstances, and we’re not going to again.”
As for the state of the offense, Rodgers believes the resurgent running game behind rookie backs Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones has given the unit more balance than it had during the 4-1 start before the broken collarbone.
He also sees “a lot of juice left in 87,” referring to receiver Jordy Nelson, who caught six TD passes in the season’s first five games with Rodgers, but none since. And he wants to get fellow receiver Randall Cobb more involved as well.
Davante Adams was Hundley’s go-to guy, and he’s looking forward to finding one-on-one matchups for him to take advantage of, too. Rodgers got an early start on watching film of Carolina last week in anticipation of this game.
Perhaps most important, he promises his own game of extending plays, dodging rushers and getting out of the pocket won’t change, echoing the words of Head Coach Mike McCarthy from earlier Wednesday regarding any caution that needs to be exercised with his surgically repaired collarbone.
While acknowledging there are no guarantees health-wise, Rodgers knows the Packers need him at his best, not some limited version.
“I wouldn’t be standing here ready to play if I wasn’t confident I could go out there and play the way I’ve always played,” he said. “There’s just no point in doing that. It’s a risky game, it’s a dangerous game. There’s risks every time you step on the field.
“That’s something we deal with, and that’s why we love this game. I think (Steelers safety) Mike Mitchell had a lot of good points when he was talking about the nature of this game. It’s a physical game, and you have to go out and play as much as you can without fear. That’s why I’m here, that’s why I’m cleared, and that’s why I’m playing.”