It’s going to be a long week of consternation in Packerland as the Aaron Rodgers Watch will be in full swing. Will he or won’t he play in the winner-take-all NFC North title game against the rival Bears on Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field?
Rodgers has missed the past seven games with a fractured left collarbone suffered Nov. 4 against the same Bears. Despite practicing on at least a limited basis since Nov. 26 and looking ready to play last week according to coach Mike McCarthy, Rodgers has been idle.
You know the rest of the story. The Packers have gone 2-5-1 (including the game Rodgers exited in the first quarter against Chicago) with three different starting quarterbacks. They looked as if they’d blown their chance at the postseason with a 38-31 home loss to the Steelers, as quarterback Matt Flynn turned the ball over twice in the second half, resulting in Steelers touchdowns. But the Bears’ 54-11 loss to the Eagles on Sunday night setup the showdown.
After Sunday’s loss, there were probably plenty of Packers fans who were cursing team doctor Pat McKenzie and general manager Ted Thompson for holding out Rodgers. Now that the Packers are still in the playoff hunt, they’re probably foaming at the mouth for No. 12 to be back under center with the season now at the precipice.
Too bad the decision has nothing to do with them.
Look, I get it, Wisconsin. You live and die with the Packers. It’s not a seasonal thing—the Packers matter 365 days a year. You’ve bought the jerseys, fretted over the practice squad left guard since off-season minicamp and sat on aluminum bleachers in frigid conditions. You’re invested, literally with your shareholder status, to the tilt.
But you’re not invested like Rodgers, Thompson and McKenzie.
Rodgers just turned 30, and probably has another 10 years to play. Thompson signed him in April to a five-year, $110 million contract extension, with $54 million guaranteed. McKenzie has been in charge of the Packers’ medical decisions since the early 1990s.
The Packers and Rodgers have kept the details of the entire process concerning his recovery and readiness to a minimum. That’s good for the organization, but frustrating to fans and the media.
Rodgers has strongly indicated that he hoped to be cleared by now. He’s a football player, and a darn tough one who played four seasons of high school and college ball with a torn ACL in his left knee—no one should ever question his toughness or desire to play hurt. He also happens to be the successor to Brett Favre, who played 275 straight games, some through terrible injuries. That all leads to one mindset for a leader like Rodgers, who knows that playoff berths and shots at the Super Bowl are fleeting: I need to play for my teammates, damn the short-term consequences. If I re-break my collarbone, I can have surgery and be back in three months.
But a collarbone is much different from most arm or leg fractures. If Rodgers gets pounded by an on-rushing 300-pound defender, there is the risk of a displaced fracture, endangering the nerves and blood supply—a career-threatening possibility. And that’s without complications from potential surgery. Look how long it took Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski to return from a forearm fracture because of infection.
That’s why NFL franchises have medical professionals: to take all the information—which no one beyond Rodgers, his agent and the team brass knows—and act in the best interest of the player (no matter how strongly he wants to get on the field) while keeping an eye on the long-term interest of the franchise. Thompson, McKenzie and even trainer Pepper Burruss have long histories together making these types of decisions. They’ll do what they think is right.
That might not make some fans happy. That might not even make Rodgers happy. But McKenzie and Thompson know what’s best for Rodgers and the Packers, and that’s how they’ll make their determination.
Win or lose, no matter what decision the Packers make, it’s the right call. They have the information. You and I do not. They were right to hold out Rodgers against the Steelers, and they’ll be right if that’s the decision they make this week.