GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Aaron Rodgers has been medically cleared to return from a broken right collarbone.
The Green Bay Packers quarterback made it official on Tuesday night, the eve of the first practice in advance of Sunday's game at Carolina. Rodgers made the announcement in an Instagram post after a long day of discussion with medical personnel led by team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie.
One day earlier, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers underwent tests to determine how much his surgically repaired collarbone had healed.
"It is now in the evaluation stage," McCarthy said late Monday afternoon. "Dr. McKenzie is reviewing it. There's a number of medical opinions that will be involved in a decision, so at this time, I do not have a clean decision for you or an update. That's where it stands."
The matchup with the Panthers is the first game for which Rodgers is eligible to return, according to injured reserve rules. He broke his collarbone against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 15, when Anthony Barr hit him and landed on him following a pass.
It had been an on-schedule recovery for Rodgers following his Oct. 19 surgery in California, where screws and plates were inserted into his right clavicle. Rodgers was placed on injured reserve the next day, ensuring he would have to sit out at least eight games. He returned to practice on Dec. 2, the day he turned 34.
Rodgers has impressed his coaches and teammates from the first time he was seen doing drills off to the side a month ago, to his first public throwing session before the Nov. 26 game in Pittsburgh, to running the scout team in practice last week. Clay Matthews even joked that Rodgers looked so good during the rehab process that the Packers shouldn't have put him on injured reserve.
"Well if he comes back, like I've been saying, arguably the best quarterback in the league, back to your team, everyone is going to get better," Matthews said after Sunday's overtime win at Cleveland. "Not only him being out there, but also the shot in the arm as we talk about him coming back.
"Watching him in practice and what he's been able to do these past couple weeks, getting more and more reps in practice and throwing on the pads, I think it's a good sign. I'm not going to speak on his behalf, but we sure hope he's ready and if he is, we're going to expect the Aaron of old."
Rodgers was off to one of his best starts before his injury at Minnesota. Through five weeks, he led the NFL in touchdown passes (13) and had thrown just three interceptions. He engineered a comeback victory in overtime to beat the Bengals at home in Week 3 and did it again with a last-minute touchdown pass to Davante Adams at Dallas two weeks later to lead the Packers to a 4-1 start.
The Packers lost at Minnesota when Brett Hundley took over following Rodgers' injury, but Hundley won three of the next seven games to keep the Packers alive in the playoff race at 7-6.
"My No. 1 thought going into it was keep our hopes alive to make the playoffs, and we're still in it," Hundley said.
Rodgers missed seven games when he broke his left collarbone in 2013, and the Packers went 2-4-1 in his absence. He did not undergo surgery that time and returned for the regular-season finale at Chicago, a game the Packers had to win to make the playoffs. Rodgers threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Randall Cobb in the final minute to win the NFC North at 8-7-1.
"We've got a chance," left tackle David Bakhtiari said. "We know what the magic number is. We still have everything in front of us, so when he comes back, we're in playoff football. We've already talked about that, and these games matter. It's go time."
News of Rodgers' return had a big impact in Las Vegas as well. The Packers went from 40-1 to 20-1 to win the Super Bowl and 20-1 to 10-1 to win the NFC. They are 2.5-point underdogs against the Panthers in Week 15; the spread would have been +9.5 with Hundley starting.