After watching Aaron Rodgers survive — and thrive — against Vikings, Packers hope worst of QB’s knee problems are behind him

September 20, 2018

Aaron Rodgers rises after being sacked in the first quarter of Sunday's tie with the Vikings at Lambeau Field. He was sacked four times overall.

GREEN BAY — Maybe it was the oddity of the game ending in a tie. Or the controversy that sprung from Clay Matthews’ game-changing roughing-the-passer penalty.

Or perhaps it’s that the Green Bay Packers and their fans are so accustomed to quarterback Aaron Rodgers playing well no matter what the circumstances — as long as he’s indeed able to play — that what the two-time NFL MVP’s performance during last Sunday’s 29-29 tie with the Minnesota Vikings was always going to be relegated to yeah, so? status. It probably would’ve been more newsworthy had he played poorly while wearing that cumbersome brace.

“Aaron’s going to be Aaron no matter what,” veteran left guard Lane Taylor said earlier this week as the Packers transitioned from their unfulfilling tie with the Vikings to this week’s game at Washington. “He can be out there with half a collarbone or one knee or whatnot. He’s going to be mobile, he’s going to move, he’s going to play his game.”

Certainly Rodgers’ game was altered by the knee injury he suffered in the Sept. 9 season-opening victory over the Chicago Bears, one the Packers trailed 20-0 before he returned in the second half to lead them to a 24-23 victory. He limited his movement inside and outside the pocket early on against the Vikings, but even that cautious approach only lasted until a third-and-7 play on the Packers’ second possession — with Rodgers scrambling up the middle and diving forward to pick up the first down.

Rodgers, who joked with Packers team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie before the game that he was shooting for 30 rushing yards and wore a Donjoy brace throughout the game, became more emboldened as the game wore on — which is a good sign that he’ll be closer to himself against the Redskins this week. Perhaps he’ll even practice before Saturday — something he believes is important even though he said throughout last week that missing Wednesday and Thursday’s practices, while not ideal, wouldn’t prevent him from playing.

“I (always) expect to play — if I’m able to move,” Rodgers said when asked about his thought process in playing against Minnesota. “I knew I was going to be able to move better than (against the Bears), and I was able to move just enough (in that game). So (this) was an improvement.

“(We’ll) see how it feels, be smart about the week of practice. I’d love to get out there; you have more rhythm when you’re doing that. But I think I’ve shown I can practice one day or no days and still go out there and lead us.”

Asked if he’s concerned the knee will be an issue all season, Rodgers replied, “I hope not, but we’ll see. It’s the type of thing that could linger for a while. But we’ll see.”

Only three times in his career as the starter has Rodgers sustained an injury he couldn’t play through: a 2010 concussion at Detroit that kept him out the following week at New England (against his wishes); 2013 fractured left collarbone that cost him seven-plus games (returning in the nick of time to get the Packers to the playoffs with a dramatic win at Chicago in the season finale); and his broken right collarbone last year, which required surgery to affix a titanium plate onto the clavicle with 13 screws (and led to the Packers missing the postseason for the first time since 2008).

In contrast, Rodgers played an entire half on a broken foot in 2006 after coming on for an injured Brett Favre (he went on injured reserve thereafter); played much of the second half of the 2008 season after separating his right (throwing) shoulder (after convincing McKenzie and the coaches to let him play shortly before kickoff of an early October game against Atlanta); and played with a torn calf muscle in his right leg suffered during the regular-season finale (which curtailed his mobility when he went back into that game and throughout the playoffs).

While coach Mike McCarthy said he “was definitely surprised to see him move the way he did,” Rodgers credited the offensive line, saying “the protection was fantastic.” As the game wore on, Rodgers told McCarthy he was good to call keep passes (play-action fakes with bootlegs) and designed roll-outs, calls even Rodgers admitted he and McCarthy “didn’t actually think those were possible early in the week.”

That’s an encouraging sign for Rodgers going forward, as the Packers have four more games (including Sunday’s) before their Week 7 bye.

After the game, Rodgers was more irritated with a couple of late mistakes he made and more bothered by minor injuries he sustained during the game (getting “punched in the eye” on an early sack and confessing after the game “my sternum hurts” because of the aforementioned third-down dive) than he was with his knee.

The hope, then, is that the knee is less and less of an issue — and he doesn’t aggravate it — in the coming weeks.

“He’s laying it on the line. I don’t expect any less,” Taylor said. “When he’s out there, he’s going to compete. He’s a warrior. He’s proven it on multiple occasions that he’s going to give you everything he can.

“He has some grit. When it comes to Aaron, if he can play, he’s going to play, no matter what. I’m sure Dr. McKenzie isn’t too excited about all of his decisions sometimes, but if he can play, he’s going to be out there. And I think that means a lot to the team. He’s not the kind of guy that’s going to err on the side of caution. He’s going to give you everything he can to win.”

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