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Despite high stakes, Packers won't rush Rodgers back

The SportsXchange

GREEN BAY, Wisc. -- He's back.

Well, not quite.

Aaron Rodgers practiced Tuesday - "I felt like I was back on the team today; I felt like I was an actual football player," he said later in the day on his weekly radio show on ESPN Wisconsin - but the face of the Green Bay Packers and their potential savior this season isn't all the way back.

The star quarterback put on his red workout jersey and helmet for the first time since he sustained a broken collarbone in the Nov. 4 loss to the Chicago Bears. The team listed Rodgers as a limited participant in an abbreviated practice of less than 90 minutes that was held at what he characterized as "walk-through tempo."

Coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers, who took snaps from practice-squad center Garth Gerhart, went through individual drills with the team.

While encouraged and enthused by Rodgers' on-field participation for the first time since the injury, McCarthy tempered the significance of the day.

"It does not look like Aaron is going to make it," said McCarthy, referring to Rodgers' availability for Green Bay's Thanksgiving Day at the Detroit Lions on Thursday. "He had a good day. This was a big day actually for him as far as doing throwing and some of the things, the targets that the training staff wanted to hit with him - they definitely hit it. So, he feels good, but I don't think he's going to make it this week."

Four hours after McCarthy changed his prognosis for Rodgers' playing status this week from the "slim to none" he expressed Monday to "closer to none" Tuesday afternoon, Rodgers confirmed on the radio show that he hasn't been cleared to play this week by team doctor Pat McKenzie.

"Expectations have been high," Rodgers said. "Obviously, I've been trying to push it as much as is reasonable, but it's a waiting game with broken bones."

So, unless Rodgers is listed as anything but "out" on the last injury report of the week Wednesday as he has been for the previous three games, the Packers are getting ready to trot out their fourth starting quarterback of this wacky season on Thursday.

The football would seem to be going in the hands of Matt Flynn. McCarthy revealed the sixth-year veteran, who's in his second go-around with the Packers, ran the first-string offense in practice Tuesday.

"Matt Flynn took the starter reps today," McCarthy said. "It was a big mental day for us. We're just removed from a five-quarter game on Sunday. So, Matt took the starter reps, and that's where we are."

The team will hold its final practice of the condensed week early in the day Wednesday before departing for Detroit.

The Packers are making the quick turnaround this week after rallying to tie the Minnesota Vikings 26-26 on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Flynn orchestrated a big comeback from a 23-7 deficit in a relief role. He replaced struggling starter Scott Tolzien shortly after halftime and took Green Bay on three scoring drives in the fourth quarter that yielded 16 points to force overtime.

The two teams matched field goals in their first possessions of the extra period, and they settled for the draw after the additional 15 minutes of playing time elapsed.

Flynn finished 21-for-36 passing for 218 yards and a touchdown for an 85.2 passer rating.

Although McCarthy again held off on naming a starter for Thursday's game, Flynn said Tuesday, "I'm preparing like I'm going to start. My mind is set to go out there and take the first snap and play and do the best that I can and try to move the ball and go out there (and) try to beat a really good Detroit team in their house."

The slumping Lions, who have lost their last two games, are tied for the NFC North lead with the Chicago Bears. Both teams are 6-5.

Right behind them are the Packers, who are 5-5-1. They have managed to stay in contention heading into the stretch run of the season despite being winless (0-3-1) with Rodgers out.

While recognizing the importance of the holiday matchup with the Lions at Ford Field, McCarthy made it clear the Packers aren't compelled to rush Rodgers back this week.

"I clearly understand Aaron's role and responsibility here, but this is a medical decision, and he's not quite ready," McCarthy said. "But, he did have good day today. He feels very good about what he accomplished today."

An admittedly optimistic Rodgers concurred, but injected some caution in his self-assessment.

"I haven't had any pain throwing," said Rodgers, whose injury is confined to his non-throwing left side. "(But) the issues people probably don't understand, they think, 'Oh, he has no pain, why doesn't he play?' it's not that simple.

"There's obviously risk management, and there's the flexibility and the strength, which are two other components of this injury that need to be where I want them to be in order to play. So, the flexibility and the strength have been the last to come, and I'll go from there."

If this is Flynn's game to start, it will be only his fourth starting assignment since breaking into the NFL as a seventh-round draft pick by Green Bay in 2008.

His first two starts came as a Packer - as an emergency replacement for a concussed Rodgers in a narrow loss of 31-27 in a primetime game at New England late in the 2010 season and then as the fill-in for a deactivated Rodgers in a historic 45-41 victory over Detroit in the 2011 regular-season finale.

In that latter game, Flynn set single-game team records with 480 passing yards and six touchdown passes.

What the Packers would give to have close to a reprisal of that performance from Flynn against the Lions on Thursday after his bid to become a starter elsewhere the past two seasons fizzled.

"He wasn't 100 percent sure with all the calls (in Sunday's game), but he did a good job of going out there and playing football," veteran right guard T.J. Lang said. "He, obviously, is a guy that was here for four years, and a lot of the stuff we're doing now has carried over from then. The base concepts, I think he feels comfortable with, (as well as) going out and commanding the offense, running the no-huddle. I think it showed he still remembers a good chunk of when he was here. If we play with him moving forward, hopefully we can continue having some similar success."

SERIES HISTORY: 167th regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 94-65-7. Green Bay has won the last five games, including a 22-9 outcome at Lambeau Field on Oct. 6 this season, and is 14-1 against the Lions with Mike McCarthy as its head coach since 2006. The Packers have won six of the last seven meetings at Detroit's Ford Field going back to 2006 - the Lions' lone victory in that span was by a 7-3 score in 2010 when Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers left the game with a concussion. The Packers are 2-0 against their longtime rival in the playoffs.

--Playing indoors at Detroit's Ford Field on Thursday is more to Eddie Lacy's liking now that winter-like conditions have taken hold in Green Bay.

Lacy attributed an asthma attack he had during a portion of the full overtime period in the Packers' 26-26 tie with Minnesota on Sunday to the prevailing subfreezing temperatures at Lambeau Field.

"I have flare-ups (with the asthma) when it's colder," Lacy said. "It's not an everyday thing. It's random pretty much."

Lacy had to be taken to the locker room for a short time to have the asthma treated as the game continued after both teams made a field goal in their first possessions of overtime. Lacy missed Green Bay's second series, a three-and-out, but returned to the field for its final possession that also ended with a punt.

"It pretty much came out of nowhere," Lacy said of the health setback. "I've been in cold weather a bit, not cold like that, but cold enough, and I had no problems with it. So, it didn't cross my mind, at all (Sunday)."

Temperature for the 12 p.m. CST kickoff was 19 degrees with the wind chill at 7.

Lacy, who said he has been afflicted by asthma since birth, never had an attack in a game previously.

The rookie workhorse had one of his most involved games this season Sunday. He touched the football 31 times, including 25 rushing attempts for 110 yards and a touchdown and a personal-best six catches for 48 yards.

Coach Mike McCarthy didn't express concern Tuesday when asked about how Lacy would respond coming off a short rest before having to play again Thursday.

"He's going to play, and he's going to play a lot," McCarthy said. "He carried the ball a bunch Sunday, ran the ball very hard, was physical doing that. He's a young man, and he knows what he needs to do to get ready for the game."

Lacy has averaged 23 carries in the last eight games after he missed the Week 3 loss at Cincinnati because of a concussion. He ranks eighth in the NFL for both rushing yards (806) and touchdown runs (six).

--OLB Clay Matthews doesn't appear on the injury report this week for the first time since early October after he sustained a broken thumb that required surgery in the Packers' 22-9 win over the Detroit Lions in Week 5. Matthews, who has played the last three games after being out for four contests, said Tuesday he will continue to wear a small cast to protect his right thumb for the rematch with the Lions in Detroit on Thursday.

--QB Aaron Rodgers (collarbone) participated in portions of the team's extended jog-through practice Tuesday. As far as anyone knows, it was Rodgers' first on-field work since he sustained the broken left collarbone that has kept him out the last three games. However, coach Mike McCarthy said afterward Rodgers is "not quite ready" to play, especially with the Packers on a short week as they get ready to play at Detroit on Thursday. Matt Flynn is in line to become the latest starting replacement for Rodgers in the key NFC North game against the Lions.

--CB Sam Shields (hamstring) had full participation in the team's jog-through practice Tuesday. Coach Mike McCarthy said afterward that he expects Shields to play Thursday at Detroit after the team's most effective cornerback missed the last two games.

--DL Johnny Jolly (groin) was considered a full-time participant in the team's jog-through practice Tuesday and is expected to play Thursday at Detroit. The veteran starter was sidelined for the 26-26 tie against Minnesota on Sunday.

--LG Josh Sitton (back) had full status in the team's jog-through practice Tuesday. The expectation is the veteran starter will be fine for the game Thursday at Detroit.

--RT Don Barclay (knee) participated in limited fashion in the team's jog-through practice Tuesday. A determination on whether Barclay can return to action Thursday at Detroit and reclaim his starting spot after missing the last two games won't be made until after practice Wednesday. Marshall Newhouse has been starting in Barclay's absence.

--RT Marshall Newhouse (shoulder) had full status in the team's jog-through practice Tuesday. That would suggest Newhouse would be OK to play Thursday at Detroit and remain in a starting role if Don Barclay can't make it back after being out the last two games.

--OLB Nick Perry (foot/ankle) was a limited participant in the team's jog-through practice Tuesday. Although head coach Mike McCarthy sounded optimistic afterward about Perry's status, whether the starter can play Thursday at Detroit after a two-game absence won't be known until Green Bay holds a practice at live speed Wednesday.

--OLB/DE Mike Neal (abdomen) had full status in the team's jog-through practice Tuesday and should be good for the holiday game at Detroit on Thursday. Neal has been starting in place of an injured Nick Perry, who may be able to play this week.

--DE C.J. Wilson (ankle) didn't participate in the team's jog-through practice Tuesday and probably won't be available for the game at Detroit on Thursday. Wilson suffered a significant injury to his lower left leg late in regulation during the 26-26 tie against Minnesota on Sunday.

--RB Johnathan Franklin (concussion/neck) didn't participate in the team's jog-through practice Tuesday. Given the quick turnaround this week, the sparingly used rookie is unlikely to be available for the game at Detroit on Thursday.

--TE Brandon Bostick (concussion) seemingly will be hard-pressed to be cleared in time for the game Thursday at Detroit. Bostick, who didn't participate in the team's jog-through practice Tuesday, suffered the head injury in the 26-26 tie against Minnesota on Sunday.

--ILB Jamari Lattimore (quadriceps) wasn't on the field for the team's jog-through practice Tuesday. Lattimore's status would seem to be in doubt for the game at Detroit on Thursday.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH

--Packers LT David Bakhtiari and RT Don Barclay or Marshall Newhouse vs. Lions DEs Ziggy Ansah and Willie Young - Green Bay could be getting a lift on its offensive line on the short week with the potential return of Barclay to game action after he missed the last two outings because of a knee injury. The Packers offensive line, particularly Newhouse on the right side, struggled against an assertive and relentless Minnesota Vikings front in the teams' game played to a tie Sunday.

For all the focus that will be placed on how the Packers' interior linemen hold up against Detroit's tormenting tackle twosome of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, Green Bay faces an immense challenge with Ansah and Young coming off the edge. Ansah, the No. 5 overall pick in this year's draft who generally lines up on the right side, leads the Lions with five sacks. Two of them came in Sunday's upset home loss to Tampa Bay after Ansah was out for two games because of a high ankle sprain. He had one sack in the Packers' win over Detroit in Green Bay on Oct. 6. Young, an emerging fourth-year player with speed and a high motor coming off the left side, has three sacks this season.

--Packers CB Micah Hyde vs. Lions WR Nate Burleson - No doubt Green Bay's leaky pass coverage has the daunting task of going against Calvin Johnson after catching a break when arguably the league's best wideout didn't play in the teams' Week 5 matchup. Also missing from that game was Burleson, who was in the early stages of recovering from surgery for a broken arm he sustained in a freakish car accident. Burleson made a big return from a seven-game absence in the loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday, finishing with a team-high-tying seven receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown in 10 pass targets.

The compact, but quick 11th-year pro has never been much of a factor when he has played against Green Bay since joining the Lions in 2010. Yet, if the Packers insist on paying too much attention to Johnson on the back end, Burleson could become a frequently targeted difference maker running out of the slot, where promising rookie Hyde has been exploited in pass coverage.

--Packers coverage units vs. Lions kick returner Jeremy Ross - The Green Bay players could be seeing a lot of their former teammate, Ross, who was inserted as Detroit's full-time returner Sunday for the first time since he signed with the Lions in October.

Ross had been released by the Packers after an inauspicious start to the season. He averaged a paltry 12.5 yards in six kickoff returns, including a critical fumble in the Week 3 loss at Cincinnati, Ross' final game with Green Bay. Ross didn't hurt himself as the replacement for healthy inactive Micheal Spurlock on returns for Detroit in Sunday's game, running back a punt for 42 yards. Ross has averaged 31 yards in three kickoff returns with a long of 44 since joining the Lions.
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