GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Not long ago, like when the Green Bay Packers were cruising with Aaron Rodgers at quarterback, a Week 14 game against a winless team would have been as close to a low-stress week as there is in the NFL.
Rodgers would be in the middle of the MVP race, and coach Mike McCarthy’s team would be looking at playoff-clinching scenarios.
Instead, McCarthy & Co. have to be on high alert because of some potential pitfalls this week. One side of their brain is saying they have Rodgers back for a full week of practice for the first time since he suffered a broken right collarbone on Oct. 15 with the strong possibility that he could play the following week at Carolina. The other side is saying this should be a sure-thing win against one of the NFL’s historically worst teams.
No wonder McCarthy was willing to take both of those subjects head on this week.
“I hope I don’t have to worry about it, but it’s a good point that will be addressed,” McCarthy said. “We need to win the game. We’re 6-6. We need to be seven wins when we get on that plane coming back from Cleveland. Nothing else matters.”
Rodgers returned to practice on Saturday, when he was seen chucking Hail Marys like they were screen passes. He’ll run the scout team this week before he undergoes a scan to see if his broken right clavicle has healed to the point that doctors would clear him to play.
“We’re excited Aaron is out there,” McCarthy said. “It was big for him to be out there Saturday; probably not as much for the team but for him to be a part of it and get back at it. Being on the practice field, that was a very good thing for what we accomplished. This week will be another step for him but, at the end of the day offensively, we need to do some things better than we did [on Sunday]. Clearly. We’ve got to get the passing game clicking.”
While Rodgers’ return to practice energized the team, it will be another week of Brett Hundley at the helm. The Packers' win last Sunday was just their second time since Rodgers’ injury, and it wasn’t because of Hundley’s passing. He threw for just 84 yards in the 26-20 overtime win over the Buccaneers.
If the Packers won their first post-collarbone game at Chicago because of some stellar fourth-quarter throws by Hundley, then it wouldn’t be a stretch to say they beat Tampa Bay in spite of him.
“We’ve got to as a unit. We have to be more consistent as far as how we went about and played that game,” Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “But as far as when we needed him the most, he made plays. And you can go back and look at the fourth-quarter drive to get that field goal, to put us in a position where we go into overtime and then you come back out in the overtime period and we drive the ball down the field, him making quite a few plays to put us in position to win the game, so I kind of look at it from a positive standpoint. When we needed him most, he made the plays necessary for us to win the game.”
The Packers are just a three-point favorite at Cleveland; with Rodgers they’d probably be a two-touchdown favorite.
“I know [there’s] the excitement about Aaron Rodgers but our defense needs to play better, our special teams needs to play better, our offense needs to play better going into the Cleveland game,” McCarthy said. “We need to win the game and continue to improve. It’s winter football. It should be a winter day up there in Cleveland, on the lake, with the wind and so forth. We need to prepare and make sure we’re ready to go to win that game.”