GREEN BAY, Wis. — An overtime victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers kept the Green Bay Packers in the NFC playoff race.
But coach Mike McCarthy knows that star quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ first full week of practice since breaking his collarbone won’t mean anything if his team loses at winless Cleveland on Sunday.
“We need to win the game. We’re 6-6. We need to have seven wins when we get on that plane coming back from Cleveland,” McCarthy said Monday. “Nothing else matters.”
And that includes the fact that Rodgers will be out on the practice field starting Wednesday, after doing some throwing at practice on Saturday.
“We’re excited Aaron’s out there. It was big for him to be out there Saturday,” McCarthy said. “Being on the practice field, that was a very good thing for what we accomplished. This week will be another step for him. But, at the end of the day, offensively, we need to do some things better than we did (against Tampa Bay). Clearly.”
The 26-20 win in overtime was just the second for Green Bay since Rodgers broke his collarbone on Oct. 15 at Minnesota.
His replacement, Brett Hundley, threw for just 84 yards against the Buccaneers. The Packers won because of a fumble return for a touchdown by defensive end Dean Lowry, a blocked punt by linebacker Kyler Fackrell and a running game that gained 199 yards.
Hundley contributed to the ground game with 66 yards rushing, including 32 on read-option keepers, but he completed only 13 of 22 passes and threw his eighth interception of the season.
Jamaal Williams rushed 21 times for 113 yards and a touchdown, while fellow rookie running back Aaron Jones’ lone carry was a 20-yard touchdown run in overtime.
Hundley did lead a 70-yard, game-tying field-goal drive in the fourth quarter and the 72-yard game-winning touchdown drive in overtime.
“We’ve got to get the passing game clicking. We’ve got some things we’ve definitely got to clean up, particularly in the drop-back (game). I didn’t like what we got out of the (play-action) game, either,” McCarthy said. “Brett did some really good things, especially at the critical times. At the most important time of the game, he played his best football. That says a lot about him.”
The Packers are hoping Rodgers can have a productive week of practice, shake off the rust while working on the scout-team offense and be ready for the team’s Dec. 17 game at Carolina.
First, though, he’ll have to undergo a series of medical tests and scans to see if the collarbone, which had two plates affixed to it with 13 screws in an Oct. 19 surgery, has sufficiently healed.
If not, he won’t be medically cleared to play against the Panthers. McCarthy said Rodgers would be in a “trial return” group that limits those players’ snaps in practice.
“Once you are medically cleared, then you are full for practice. So he will be ‘trial return’ this week,” McCarthy said, later adding: “He’s not cut loose to go full practice where he’s able to do everything. … The medical clearance will not be an option until next week.”
Still, even with limited reps, Rodgers’ presence at Saturday’s practice had an effect on the team, according to some of his teammates who saw him throwing during drills.
“He was throwing just as high, if not higher than what you saw in Detroit a couple years ago. I don’t know, I’m not the head coach, I don’t know what his scans say, but he looks good,” said linebacker Clay Matthews, referring to Rodgers’ desperation touchdown pass to beat the Lions in 2015.
“Obviously, Aaron’s the guy in Green Bay. I mean, there’s no doubt about it.”