Aaron Rodgers' return was 'a little extra special'

Packers quarterback appreciative of warm Lambeau Field reception, team support

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Packers QB Aaron Rodgers walks off the field after Green Bay's 17-0 win over the Seattle Seahawks.

GREEN BAY – Aaron Rodgers kept his focus all week.

Through the Zoom meetings, a three-day ramp-up period, and ultimately his one-day, in-person crash course after returning to the Packers' facilities on Saturday.

In the days between, there wasn't much time for Rodgers to reflect on his return from COVID-19 and the outside chatter surrounding his diagnosis. He had a job to do and an opponent to prepare for despite not taking any practice reps the past two weeks.

So, maybe that's why the aftermath of Sunday's 17-0 shutout victory over the Seattle Seahawks hit Rodgers just a little different. As he walked off the field alongside teammate Preston Smith, a chorus of cheers greeted the NFL's reigning MVP at the mouth of Lambeau Field's home tunnel.

In the moment, Rodgers admittedly got a "little misty"-eyed.

"I just don't take these things for granted, walking off the field as a winner," Rodgers said. "Just walking out with Preston, who I have so much love and appreciation for, and then hearing that type of response from the crowd, it was a little extra special today."

While appreciative of all the well-wishes from friends, teammates, coaches and team personnel, Rodgers was especially grateful to Smith for checking on him during each of his 10 days away from the team following his positive COVID-19 test on Nov. 2.

Rodgers knew that meant he would be sidelined against Kansas City in Week 9, but it also left the door open for a return against Seattle, albeit under less-than-ideal circumstances with not being allowed to return to the team until the day before the game.

Rodgers participated in all the pre- and post-practice meetings remotely, and followed up on the game plan during phone calls with Head Coach Matt LaFleur, offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett and position coach Luke Getsy.

Rodgers felt he was "in the loop the entire time," but the biggest challenge was the inability to practice during his quarantine and repeat plays, checks and schematic adjustments.

On a typical Saturday, Rodgers can recite plays back to LaFleur word for word after having three or four chances to review. Without that backlog this week, Rodgers credited LaFleur for designing a functional plan with fewer in-game adjustments.

"Today … was going to be more Ron Burgundy-ish," Rodgers said. "Sometimes (I've) got to repeat exactly what's being said verbatim and kind of feel my way through some of the plan, but I feel like Matt did a nice job of limiting the long play calls early in the game. There was a lot of run-it plays, not a lot of cans or adjustments on them, so I think that made me settle in a little bit."

Despite not practicing, Rodgers put together a workmanlike performance against the Seahawks. He completed 23-of-37 passes for 292 yards with "one bad decision" on a third-quarter interception in the back of the end zone.

The Packers moved the ball throughout the game but didn't find paydirt until AJ Dillon scored twice in the fourth quarter. Prior to that, Green Bay leaned on a "championship-caliber" defense that intercepted Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson twice in the end zone on its way to Green Bay's first defensive shutout in three years.

"You're always wondering how it's going to look on gameday when you haven't had any reps with him," said LaFleur of Rodgers not practicing. "But we've got so much confidence in his ability to go out there and execute. I thought there were a lot of plays, for whatever reason, that didn't quite work out.

"I thought there were a couple plays where we had opportunities where he threw some great balls and we just didn't come up with, and there were some where I'm sure he would like to have back, just like there is every game."

Outside of getting stepped on once in the second quarter, Rodgers said he felt "pretty good" on Sunday. He was a bit tired afterward but didn't experience any breathing issues in the game. With a full week of preparation, Rodgers expects to be back to his old self next Sunday in Minnesota.

Knowing how polarizing COVID-19 and vaccinations can be right now in the country, Rodgers understands the strong reactions that have resulted from his positive test and vaccination status. It also has made him appreciate those who reached out to offer their support during his recovery. Some even brought him food.

That was what stuck with Rodgers the most as he walked off Lambeau Field on Sunday evening, with the Packers' eighth win of the 2021 season putting an end to a "difficult" 10 days.

"It was definitely a good time to reflect on the last 17 years and to continue to try and live daily with a lot of gratitude," Rodgers said. "In that gratitude was sincere thanks to all the people that reached out. I heard from people all over the country, all over the world, checking on me, seeing how I was doing, sending words of affirmation and support. And that was really special."

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