For Aaron Rodgers, playing hurt is about 'pride,' not excuses

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- By Wednesday, Aaron Rodgers could no longer claim that he was healthy -- as he had after Sunday’s loss to Detroit. No, with his name among the 14 on the Green Bay Packers' official injury report -- he was listed as being a limited participant in practice because of a right (throwing) shoulder injury -- the reigning NFL MVP finally had to admit he was hurt.

And as much as his shoulder might’ve hurt, that admission hurt a little bit too.

Appearing on the injury report would in part explain why the Packers quarterback’s performance hasn’t been up to his standards this season, especially amid the team’s three-game losing streak -- during which Rodgers has completed 74 of 131 passes (56.5 percent) for 779 yards with six touchdowns and one interception (86.0 rating). A cynic might suggest it provides an excuse for Rodgers' play.

For Rodgers, though, it was like accepting defeat.

“It’s not an excuse. It’s a source of pride. I think that’s the difference,” Rodgers said in an interview Wednesday, as the Packers (6-3) prepared for Sunday’s game against the NFC North-leading Minnesota Vikings (7-2) at TCF Bank Stadium at the University of Minnesota. “Some people use the injuries as an excuse. But I think for the guys in this locker room who are out there battling, it’s a source of pride.”

Rodgers, who also suffered a leg injury against the Lions, is hardly alone in being prideful. Last year, one of Rodgers’ closest friends on the team, linebacker A.J. Hawk, kept insisting that he was healthy, even as he struggled throughout his disappointing final season with the team -- and even after Rodgers revealed on his weekly radio show that Hawk had been playing hurt. Then, immediately after the season, Hawk underwent ankle surgery.

On Wednesday’s injury report, four of the Packers’ five starting offensive linemen -- left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee), left guard Josh Sitton (knee), right guard T.J. Lang (shoulder) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) were listed. Among the league’s best lines last year, the unit has been up and down this season. Yet all four fully expect to play against the Vikings.

“It’s a fine line. You don’t want to talk about your injuries because that could be an advantage to your opponent. And you want to play through injuries because you have pride and you don’t want to let your team down,” said Sitton, who also has been battling a chronic back injury. “As a player, it’s a Catch-22 with admitting it and not. Sometimes you go out there and you might underperform because of an injury. And then you still don’t admit it. But it’s never an excuse. Everybody’s hurt in this league.”

Packers team physician Dr. Patrick McKenzie, as coach Mike McCarthy said Wednesday, is “extremely conservative” about letting injured players play. But veteran players have greater negotiating power with McKenzie than younger players.

“That’s the great thing about ‘Doc.’ He’s very conservative when it comes to how quickly guys come back, but he’s very open to dialogue,” said Bulaga, who suffered season-ending injuries in 2012 (hip) and 2013 (left knee) and missed three games earlier this season when he reinjured his knee. “I think there’s a trust there that I’m not going to go out there if I don’t feel that I can do my job. I mean, I’m blocking for the best quarterback in the league. I’m not going to put him at risk with me out there if I can’t do my job.”

Rodgers wouldn’t divulge how long his throwing shoulder has been bothering him or if he suffered the injury against the Lions. McCarthy dismissed the idea that refusing to admit to an injury misleads fans who might be critical of an underperforming player who they think is healthy.

“To me, what's important is what [injured players] know and what their teammates know,” McCarthy said. “We clearly understand the importance of the fans and what you want to know and how [a player’s] individual brand is being portrayed out there. But at the end of the day it's about the commitment that each individual makes to the season and to the football team."

Rodgers intimated that if players can avoid the medical staff, they can keep a non-concussion injury to themselves for weeks. He obviously couldn’t do that in 2013 (fractured collarbone) or last year (torn calf muscle), missing 7 1/2 games with the collarbone but playing through the calf injury. Apparently, the shoulder injury was enough of an issue that he had to admit it to the medical staff.

“Some people don’t like going in the training room and getting treatment. We want to be out there with our guys,” Rodgers said. “There’s a lot of pride in lacing it up every Sunday and knowing that it doesn’t matter what you’re dealing with, you’re going to play through it. We’ve all done it over the years.

“My thing is no more important than anybody else’s injury. If I feel like I give us the best chance to win by being out there and dealing with whatever I’m dealing with throughout my career, I’m going to be out there.”