GREEN BAY – Everyone on the Packers’ sideline had an idea of what Aaron Rodgers was playing through when the veteran quarterback stepped onto Lambeau Field Sunday afternoon.
And they also knew the two-time NFL MVP wasn’t going to let his injured knee prevent him from starting a critical early-season NFC North showdown with the Minnesota Vikings.
After steering the Packers to a come-from-behind victory over Chicago last week, Rodgers completed 30-of-42 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown in the eventual 29-29 tie despite having practiced only once in the lead-up to the game.
Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy didn’t have a single run play called for his quarterback, but that didn’t stop Rodgers from leaking out for seven yards on one scramble to convert on third down late in the first quarter.
McCarthy didn’t have an update on Rodgers’ situation as of his Monday afternoon news conference, but he praised his quarterback for the toughness he displayed against the Vikings.
“Aaron Rodgers, I mean he's obviously sore. That's to be expected,” McCarthy said. “I don't have an accurate read on where exactly he is, but he's a warrior, just for what he gave us (Sunday) was outstanding.”
Moments after last week’s 24-23 win over the Bears, a game in which the Packers trailed by 20 in the third quarter, Rodgers made it clear he fully intended to play against the Vikings. Still, McCarthy said late last week it wasn’t a “layup.”
After not practicing on either Wednesday or Thursday, Rodgers took a majority of the reps during Saturday’s final run-through and eventually got the green light to play.
While McCarthy said he was surprised how much mobility Rodgers had against the Vikings, nobody in the Packers’ locker room was shocked at how sharp the 14th-year quarterback was despite rehabbing for most of the week.
“He’s a vet. He’s been in this league a long time,” receiver Geronimo Allison said. “He knows his body and he knows how to prepare. Practicing with how he approaches the week, you could see on Sunday he’ll be ready.”
Playing with a brace on his knee, Rodgers stuck to a similar script as the previous week against Chicago, utilizing quick reads and well-timed downfield throws to keep the Vikings’ defense at bay early on.
Buoyed by a productive running game and a stable pocket to throw from, Rodgers completed passes to eight different receivers Sunday and connected six times with new tight end Jimmy Graham for a team-high 95 receiving yards.
Rodgers endured a few hits during Green Bay’s 70 offensive plays, but he pulled himself back to his feet each time.
After the game, Rodgers lamented the missed opportunities that stood in the way of Green Bay sealing a victory over its NFC North foe, but teammates say it was his toughness that helped put the Packers in the driver’s seat in the first place.
“You know he’s laying it on the line. I don’t expect any less,” left guard Lane Taylor said. “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.”
Taylor said the mindset of the offensive line didn’t change in light of Rodgers’ injury. The unit has to do its job regardless of whether Rodgers is “100 percent, 90 percent or 10 percent.”
As for how the game unfolded, Taylor believes there was value in Rodgers’ 7-yard run in the first quarter because it showed the Vikings’ defense he wasn’t going to be just a sitting duck in the pocket.
It’s also something Washington and every defense coming up on the Packers’ schedule must account for, with Rodgers still sitting inside the top five for NFL passer rating (111.3) through the first two weeks of the regular season.
Rodgers certainly doesn’t need to prove anything to the Packers’ locker room at this point in his career, but Sunday’s performance did add another to chapter to his growing legend.
Having previously played through calf and hamstring injuries in recent years, Rodgers returned on the early side of his timeline for a broken collarbone last year and is toughing it out for the Packers once again.
“I think it means a lot to the team,” Taylor said. “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 has, even if it costs him or sets him back. He’s going to give you everything he can to win.”