GREEN BAY – Aaron Jones heard the news of Aaron Rodgers’ immediate return like so many others did on Tuesday evening.
Damarious Randall’s Twitter account.
“It said ‘The goat is back,’” said Jones Wednesday, recounting the Green Bay cornerback’s tweet with a picture/emoji of a goat that has been liked more than 17,000 times. “That’s the first person, and then I saw Davante’s tweet and Dave’s tweet.”
The responses piled up minutes after Rodgers’ 9:16 p.m. CT announcement on social media he’d received medical clearance to return from his broken right collarbone. Randall, receiver Davante Adams, left tackle David Bakhtiari and several other teammates voiced their excitement on Twitter about the impending return of the two-time MVP quarterback.
That enthusiasm was still palpable in the locker room Wednesday, as the Packers began their preparations for Sunday’s showdown with the Carolina Panthers. It’ll be the first time Rodgers is under center for Green Bay since leaving in the first quarter in Minnesota on Oct. 15.
The Packers managed to stay in the playoff hunt in seven games without Rodgers behind backup Brett Hundley, who guided Green Bay to back-to-back overtime victories for the first time in franchise history over the past two weeks.
The team weighed different medical opinions on Tuesday before a final decision was made on Rodgers’ availability. One of his closest friends, receiver Jordy Nelson, spent most of the day in the dark regarding Rodgers’ status for Carolina.
As afternoon turned to evening, the 10-year veteran figured a decision simply hadn’t been made. And then it happened.
“When I saw the tweet I was surprised, to be honest with you, especially by the time it happened Tuesday night,” Nelson said. “It’s great to have him back. He’s the leader of the team, controls a lot of things on our offense, and his play on the field speaks for itself. It’s great to have him back, great to have him healthy. I’m looking forward to it.”
Rodgers has wowed teammates with his arm strength and how sharp he’s been in practice since returning on Dec. 2, but everyone is in agreement that it’s going to take a collective effort for the Packers to make a legitimate run at a ninth consecutive playoff appearance.
Rodgers returns to an offense that has stabilized over the past month after injuries collected several starters in the first half of the season. Last week in Cleveland, the Packers featured the same starting five offensive linemen for the third consecutive week for the first time this year.
Like 2013 when Rodgers missed seven games with a collarbone injury, the Packers’ running game has come to life behind the rookie combo of Jones and Jamaal Williams, who have combined for 774 rushing yards, 247 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Packers’ top three receivers – Nelson, Adams and Randall Cobb – have all been healthy this season, giving Rodgers his full arsenal of perimeter weapons to work with.
“We all have to play. He’s not walking on that field by himself,” Cobb said. “He’s the greatest out there, but he can’t win by himself. He knows that. He relies on us, and us as teammates, we’re going to continue to do everything we can to put this team in the best position to win and give us the opportunity to keep going.”
Wins over Carolina, Minnesota and Detroit puts the Packers in the conversation for a playoff spot, but it’s all a moot point if the team doesn’t keep its foot on the gas pedal. Head Coach Mike McCarthy made it clear in addressing reporters Wednesday he doesn’t want Rodgers’ return to result in “a bunch of false confidence” inside the locker room.
Yes, the quarterback is back. Now, the team needs to do its part to capitalize on the return of its leader. That process begins Sunday in Carolina against a Panthers squad that’s won five of its last six.
“That’s what I think the focus of the team needs to be,” Nelson said. “It’s not now that he’s back everyone can take a deep breath and relax and go try to play a football game. I mean, we still — it’s pretty much just like last year and we gotta win out. We need to do our part, and that’s all you can worry about. That’s starting this week.”