GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers was cleared to return from a left collarbone injury, just in time to start Sunday for the Packers against the Chicago Bears in a game to decide the NFC North title.
With no advance warning and little fanfare, the franchise quarterback received the long-awaited good news at the same time as the rest of his teammates Thursday.
“This is a fun day for me, but I think the focus needs to be on this game and the opportunity we have to win the division,” Rodgers said.
Soon enough. But the spotlight for now is squarely on the return of one of the NFL’s most irreplaceable players.
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Green Bay (7-7-1) is 2-5-1 since Rodgers went down during the first series of a 27-20 loss Nov. 4 to Chicago. The Packers have managed to hang on, with a shot to win a third straight division title with a victory Sunday at Soldier Field.
“I’ll start with the announcement that we’re preparing for the Chicago Bears with Aaron Rodgers as our starting quarterback,” coach Mike McCarthy told reporters after practice.
Win and Green Bay returns to Lambeau Field the following weekend to host a wild-card team in the first round of the playoffs.
“We’re in it. You know we have a chance against our rivals, and what a better way than to go down there and get some redemption and host a home playoff game,” Rodgers said.
The last two months have been filled with angst for Packers fans. Discussions about whether Rodgers should risk future injury or return to bolster Green Bay’s playoff chances have filled sports talk radio shows and holiday office parties.
Now imagine what it was like for the Packers’ brass and team doctor. The organization made a big investment in Rodgers this past offseason, signing him to a five-year contract extension through the 2019 season worth as much as $110 million.
“Every football player that plays in this game Sunday will have risk. I think we all understand that,” McCarthy said. “So we’ve done our due diligence. We’ve gone through all the evaluations, and we feel it is time. Aaron is ready to play.”
Rodgers is returning just when pass-rushing linebacker Clay Matthews is leaving the lineup again with a right thumb injury.
The Packers started the season 5-2 with Rodgers leading the offense. Things changed drastically after the 2011 NFL MVP got hurt on a sack while scrambling out of the pocket in the Week 9 loss to Chicago at Lambeau Field. The Packers went on a five-game winless skid, shuffling through three more starting quarterbacks.
Green Bay then won two straight with backup Matt Flynn before falling 38-31 last week to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Rodgers’ impending return wasn’t the only good injury news in Titletown. Rookie running back Eddie Lacy was held out of practice with a lingering ankle injury, but McCarthy expects his 1,100-yard rusher to play Sunday.
• The Detroit Lions put tight end Dorin Dickerson on injured reserve, four days after he didn’t immediately tell the team’s medical staff he had a concussion during a game against the New York Giants.
• Buffalo Bills receiver Robert Woods said he was fined $15,000 by the NFL for punching Dolphins safety Reshad Jones.
• Dallas receiver Dez Bryant said he will play in a winner-take-all finale against Philadelphia despite missing practice because of a persistent back problem.
• Rookie receiver Tavon Austin missed another day of practice, lessening the odds he’ll be ready for the St. Louis Rams’ season finale at Seattle.
• Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe was diagnosed with a concussion and will likely miss this weekend’s game.
• Former All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha will retire after 11 years in the NFL.
• ACL injuries are down, the NFL has told its Health and Safety Advisory Committee. In a memo obtained by AP, the league said research showed there were 30 ACL injuries in games through the preseason and first 13 weeks of the schedule. There were 39 such injuries in 2012, 35 in 2011 and 37 in 2010.