GREEN BAY — If you do the math — simple addition in this case — you can deduce that Aaron Rodgers won’t be playing quarterback for the Green Bay Packers when they host the Atlanta Falcons in a matchup of two of the NFL’s more disappointing teams Sunday.
Rodgers and Packers coach Mike McCarthy spoke with reporters in separate sessions Wednesday and, if you combine their messages, it’s obvious Rodgers won’t receive medical clearance for his broken left collarbone in time to be a full participant in practice or play in what amounts to a do-or-die game for the Packers.
“It’s a medical decision,” Rodgers said. “There were three parts to it: the strength, the range of motion and the evidence that we see on the scan. Two out of three are passed so far.”
The third test, the bone scan that reveals the rate at which the bone is healing, hasn’t been passed. Asked earlier if another bone scan on Rodgers was scheduled for later in the week, McCarthy said, “No, we’re not going to continue doing that.”
OK, then. If the bone scan wasn’t good enough to clear Rodgers and if he’s not going to have another bone scan before the game, well, the math simply doesn’t add up for Rodgers to ride in on a white horse and save the Packers’ season.
Basically then, the question for Green Bay remains the same even as its playoff hopes hover between slim and none: Can the Packers even win a football game without Rodgers at quarterback?
So far, the answer is an emphatic and sobering no. The Packers are 0-4-1 since Rodgers went down and they haven’t looked very good doing it. They’ve used three starting quarterbacks, all short-termers with the team, and none has been able to lead the Packers to victory or even get them to resemble a playoff team.
The Packers’ playoff situation can be summarized in this nutshell: They must win their final four games and hope for help either from the Detroit Lions or the Lions’ opponents to win the NFC North title. Since the Lions are the NFL’s most unpredictable team and since injuries, especially at quarterback, have a way of changing a team’s fortunes in a heartbeat, there is never reason for an NFL team to throw in the towel until it is mathematically eliminated.
Some have interpreted that sliver of playoff hope as a reason for the Packers to rush Rodgers back into action, that the risk of damaging the collarbone again, likely with far greater complications, outweighs the need for caution. But that would be a football decision and, while football people once routinely outvoted team doctors in the NFL, that is no longer the case.
There is also a school of thought that former Packers ironman Brett Favre would have returned by now, which is just plain wrong. With the current Collective Bargaining Agreement and the NFL’s recent emphasis on player safety, this is, has been and always will be a medical decision on Rodgers. He will play when the doctors feel he can survive a blow to the shoulder and not a moment before.
That leaves the Packers’ fate up to Matt Flynn, Rodgers’ one-time caddy who returned to the Packers’ fold Nov. 12 and was expected to save the season until he looked like a sore-armed, overmatched rookie against the Lions on Thanksgiving Day. Still, there is reason to think Flynn will be better against the Falcons than he was against the Lions and, no, not because he couldn’t possibly be any worse.
For one thing, the Packers will play at home, likely in frigid conditions against an injury-depleted dome team that has a 3-9 record after averaging 12 victories over the past three seasons. Second, the Packers will have 10 days between games, so they’ll be about as rested as a team can be this time of year. Finally, Flynn had very limited practice leading up to the Lions game due to the short week, so he’ll be as ready to perform at a winning level as he’s been since he signed.
Flynn insisted his arm is sound and said he’s using the full week of practice “just getting time with the receivers, getting timing down with some of the new plays we have here that I haven’t necessarily really run in practice. Just getting timing down and getting the communication down with the O-line and the running backs and things like that. Just all the little things you miss out not being here a while. Just getting back on that rhythm, understanding the body language of the receivers and really what we’re trying to do schematically.”
What that means is, even without Rodgers under center, the Packers’ day of reckoning has arrived. Many have used their 0-4-1 record as an indictment of the single-minded method McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson have used to build this team, both at the backup quarterback position and throughout the roster. If the Packers can’t beat a woebegone Falcons team with Flynn totally immersed in the game plan and a well-rested team, it will go a long way toward proving those critics right.