David Bakhtiari's return comes at just the right time for Packers' playoff run

DETROIT – When November and December came and went without David Bakhtiari back in action, the Green Bay Packers' All-Pro left tackle started to think that perhaps his return from ACL reconstruction might not come this season after all.

A second surgery complicated matters.

Even last week, when he faced his last chance to get any game snaps before the playoffs, he wasn’t bullish about playing in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions.

And then Aaron Rodgers got to him.

“I got a text from Aaron, [who] said, ‘I’d love for you to be out there, it would mean a lot,’” Bakhtiari revealed after the game. “I wasn’t really planning on it.”

His goal for Week 18 was just to practice, and he did so twice – on Wednesday and then, after a day of rest on Thursday, again on Friday. He was leery about playing his first football in more than a year on the artificial surface at Ford Field, but ...

“When he texted me, I was like, all right, I’ll see how it goes in practice,” Bakhtiari said. “I liked how it was in practice, and I’m like, you know what -- I didn’t exactly want to be on turf -- but I said, ‘Let’s do it, let’s go have fun.’

“I think it was more for him than for me.”

Bakhtiari went 27 plays in Sunday’s 37-30 loss to the Lions, leaving midway through a second-quarter series not because of any injury but rather the fatigue that came from not playing in a game since Dec. 27, 2020. Four days after that, he tore the ACL in his left knee during practice.

The Packers will monitor Bakhtiari’s recovery during their bye this week, but Bakhtiari said he believes he can go the entire game when they next play in the NFC divisional round on either Jan. 22 or 23.

“It’s been a long year for him,” said Rodgers, who threw two touchdown passes Sunday before giving way to Jordan Love late in the second quarter.

“I’m just so proud of him to get back out there. We had a conversation on Wednesday. I don’t think he was thinking about playing. I just kind of floated the idea and said, ‘Hey, why don’t you come out and play a couple of series on Sunday?’ I kind of maybe slightly adjusted or course corrected what he wanted to do. I’m so proud of him. He’s been through so much.”

Bakhtiari originally had hoped to return for the Nov. 7 game at the Kansas City Chiefs. If not for that game, then the following week against the Seattle Seahawks or the week after that at the Minnesota Vikings, at the latest.

It was around that time when news broke of a second surgery for Bakhtiari, the details of which were unknown until Sunday. He said team physician Pat McKenzie, who did the original ACL reconstruction last January, went back in to clean out scar tissue and took measures to reduce the amount of fluid in his knee.

“We started ramping up practicing; that was my body kind of telling me something wasn’t right,” Bakhtiari said.

Bakhtiari’s return – along with that of rookie center Josh Myers (who played 32 snaps Sunday in his return from midseason knee surgery) and the possible return of right tackle Billy Turner (who hasn’t played since a Week 14 knee injury) – could reshape the offensive line for the playoffs. Jon Runyan Jr. would likely stay at left guard and Lucas Patrick at right guard, where he moved upon Myers’ return, giving the Packers all of their preferred starters in front of Rodgers.

“We’ll take a look at the tape and have a good plan for him moving forward,” LaFleur said of Bakhtiari. “Hopefully he can build upon this. But, like I told him and Josh, there’s no substitute for football shape. I think it was good, it was good for them to be back out there.”

While the top-seeded Packers (13-4) still have some injury questions heading into the postseason – receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling left Sunday’s game with a back injury – they look about as healthy as possible on offense for their playoff run.

Even Rodgers’ once-problematic fractured pinkie toe made it through unscathed for the second straight week. “I feel like it’s going to be a non-issue moving forward,” he said.