Rodgers Returns, Rested And Ready

The Green Bay Packers had plenty of confidence in Matt Flynn as their quarterback last week, and they played like it in nearly knocking off a Super Bowl favorite in New England. But there’s something about a team getting its starter back, and the references made to Aaron Rodgers on Wednesday spoke to that.

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Head Coach Mike McCarthy labeled him "commander in chief of the offense." Cornerback Charles Woodson called him "our play-caller." Receiver Greg Jennings talked about "that leadership – you can't replace it."

The convergence of Rodgers gaining medical clearance to return to the field with the win-or-else circumstance regarding the Packers' playoff hopes created a mixture of both intensity and optimism in the locker room following this week's first practice, a vibe that is sure to continue through Sunday when the New York Giants visit Lambeau Field.

"It was good to see him out there running around," Woodson said of having Rodgers in uniform and on the field for the first time since late in the second quarter Dec. 12 at Detroit, when he suffered his second concussion of the season. "He'll be ready to go this week, fired up. I know he's mad about missing last week's game, so we look forward to having him back in there."

Though he held out hope all week of playing, Rodgers was not medically cleared last week for the New England game, forcing him to miss a start for the first time since taking over in 2008. He acknowledged that as difficult as it was to sit out, he understood the decision to rest was in the best interests of his long-term health.

To say he was ready to return Wednesday might be an understatement. He said he didn't feel rusty, nor was he nervous about having any setbacks getting back into this high-speed, full-contact game.

"I have zero doubts taking the field again," said Rodgers, who didn't go into specifics but passed the league's post-concussion protocol on Tuesday, which included various tests to earn clearance from both the team's physicians and an independent consultant.

"I feel confident. I've been cleared. The doctors are confident. I'm going to continue to play the way I play, … and just make sure I slide every time."

That last comment was made with a smile, but it's also a serious consideration. Rodgers' concussion in Detroit likely would have been avoided had he slid feet first after scrambling for a first down. Instead, he tried to get extra yards and while getting tackled by safety Amari Spievey, he was hit in the back by linebacker Landon Johnson and his head slammed into the turf.

His first concussion this year occurred completely differently, as he took a shot to the head from Washington defensive end Jeremy Jarmon in overtime just after releasing a pass, which was intercepted.

But that one also didn't sideline Rodgers for an entire week, and while he stated he's going to continue to scramble and make plays with his feet when he has to, he knows he can't take unnecessary risks with his health.

"I've been a guy who has slid 95 percent of the time," he said, admitting he doesn't entirely remember the Detroit play on which he got hurt. "I'm usually pretty smart outside the pocket. There's some circumstances where that can't happen or doesn't happen. But this game is a reactionary game. It's a collision sport. There's going to be collisions on the field. Obviously you want to minimize those when you're a quarterback.

"It's part of the game unfortunately and I'll definitely make a better decision next time."

Rodgers said he has spoken to some other players who have returned from concussions, but he declined to reveal any names or what was discussed. He has changed helmets to a different model, though the only difference anybody was talking about was how it looked on him. Jennings called it "hideous."

That probably wasn't the kind of joking around Rodgers had in mind when he said he missed the team camaraderie and just "being around the guys" last week. But he'll take it, because it still beats sitting at home for two days knowing everyone else is at a practice he's not allowed to attend.

"The guys definitely gave me a hard time today about how I looked," Rodgers said, without providing any details about what makes the new helmet different. "I'm not really so worried about how I look in it. I'm a little more worried about how I play in it. Hopefully I play pretty well in it."

"The guys" are plenty confident about that, no matter how much grief they've decided to give their leader in welcoming him back.

"It's great to see Aaron back on the field, zinging the ball around," fullback John Kuhn said. "It looks like he hasn't lost a thing."

Additional coverage - Dec. 22

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