GREEN BAY — The Green Bay Packers’ playoff hopes — along with an eight-year run of postseason berths — came to an end Monday night. Whether or not quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ season ended along with it remains to be seen.
The Packers were eliminated from playoff contention when the Atlanta Falcons beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 24-21 on Monday Night Football. Among the things the Packers, at 7-7 entering Saturday night’s game against the Minnesota Vikings at Lambeau Field, needed to have happen to have any hope of a playoff berth was for the Falcons to lose their final three games.
Now, general manager Ted Thompson, coach Mike McCarthy and the team’s medical staff must decide whether there’s any reason to let Rodgers play against the Vikings without a shot at the postseason. The most recent time the Packers faced the Vikings on Oct. 15, Rodgers suffered a fractured right collarbone that caused him to miss the next seven games following surgery.
McCarthy, speaking Monday evening before the Falcons-Buccaneers game kicked off, refused to say whether Rodgers would play against the Vikings, offering no hints as to whether the outcome of the game would impact the decision.
Although McCarthy said he and his staff intended to watch the game — “It impacts our opportunity to move forward, so you’re definitely aware of it,” he said — McCarthy left the door open for Rodgers to play regardless of the Packers’ playoff situation. Rodgers was visibly rusty in his return to action in Sunday’s 31-24 loss at Carolina, completing 26 of 45 passes for 290 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions (71.5 rating). He also ran six times for 43 yards, although he took harder hits in the pocket than he did when he scrambled.
“Aaron Rodgers is sore — rightfully so,” McCarthy said, pointing to three sacks and multiple other shots Rodgers took after he released the ball — including on a 33-yard touchdown to wide receiver Randall Cobb. “He was hit too many times, took two big hits. So we’re working through that. So we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
The Packers could have kept their playoff hopes alive themselves had they beaten the Panthers, and after struggling early as Rodgers shook off the rust, they had their chance to at least force overtime. With 2 minutes, 43 seconds left in the fourth quarter, Rodgers threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to tight end Richard Rodgers, pulling Green Bay to within a touchdown.
The Packers then recovered Mason Crosby’s onside kick at their own 48-yard line, and were driving for the game-tying touchdown when No. 4 wide receiver Geronimo Allison fumbled at the Carolina 28-yard line with 1:50 left after a 10-yard catch that would have given the Packers another first down. The Panthers ran out the clock from there.
“I’m disappointed like every man on the sideline is. It was an opportunity,” McCarthy said. “Obviously there was extra energy in our locker room with Aaron playing. I wish that energy would have been consistent throughout our team for the whole time. That’s a disappointment.”
Rodgers had pushed Packers team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie and the team’s brain trust to let him play against the Panthers knowing that three straight victories would likely mean a berth in the postseason. After the game Sunday, Rodgers hinted that he wanted to play against the Vikings — the team that derailed his season —regardless of the playoff picture, saying, “I’m a competitor. Until they tell me otherwise, I’m expecting to play.”
Rodgers acknowledged after the game he was “a little sore” but insisted his collarbone was not the reason why he uncharacteristically missed several throws, including underthrowing Cobb on one interception and Jordy Nelson on another.
“I didn’t throw it as well as I’m used to throwing it and it kind of hurt us — a lot,” Rodgers said. “The shoulder felt fine. I felt good all week in practice, just missed some throws. Obviously, I hold myself to high standards and (Sunday’s performance) comes in well below those standards.”