GREEN BAY -- Mike McCarthy believes the biggest credit to quarterback Aaron Rodgers' return to action goes to ... Aaron Rodgers.

"I kept an open mind to it, but I think it really speaks to Aaron, what he's done through the rehab phase," McCarthy said regarding his thoughts on Rodgers' chances to return when he went on injured reserve following collarbone surgery eight weeks ago.

"Like any injury, there's threshholds you have to get over, and he was able to clear each hurdle earlier than the norm. His rehab process was very fluid, very clean, and it's put him in this position today to get ready for Carolina."

Rodgers and the Packers are slated to hit the practice field Wednesday afternoon to begin on-field preparations for Sunday's game at the Carolina Panthers, who are 9-4. It will be Rodgers' first game since Week 6 at Minnesota on Oct. 15.

McCarthy's praise of Rodgers' effort and dedication to come back was stated several different ways. He said the medical staff "laid out the gauntlet of what needed to be done, and he ran through it." He called Rodgers' mental toughness "probably his greatest asset," and he saw Rodgers applying the same intensity to his rehab and recovery that he normally applies during game preparation.

As for the risk of re-injury to the collarbone and whether Rodgers needs to be cautious in any way on the field Sunday in Charlotte, McCarthy simply said, "You have to play your game."

The Packers' game has been a mixed bag in recent weeks, with down-to-the-wire finishes and an improved running game, but Green Bay is also dealing with a banged-up defense and several areas that need cleaning up. McCarthy said his message to the team on Wednesday was that it needs to play better heading into these final three weeks with an NFC playoff berth at stake.

"Our team has done an excellent job of finding different ways to win, but we’re not going to Carolina with a bunch of false confidence," McCarthy said. "We understand the impact Aaron Rodgers can make on our football team ... but we're 7-6 and we clearly understand what's on the line here. It's a very, very important game for both teams. It's going to be a playoff atmosphere, and that's what we have to get ready for.

"The way we've played the last seven weeks has made us a more well-rounded football team, and I like that ... but we're going to need to play damn good to win this game."

Packers.com will have more following practice and locker room interviews.