GREEN BAY, Wis. — With a winner-take-all game set for Sunday at Soldier Field, the Green Bay Packers will have Aaron Rodgers back in the starting lineup against the Chicago Bears.
Coach Mike McCarthy announced Thursday in his post-practice news conference at Lambeau Field that Rodgers will be the Packers’ starting quarterback for the first time since he suffered a fractured left collarbone on a sack by Bears defensive end Shea McClellin on the opening drive of the Nov. 4 meeting here. Rodgers has missed the last seven games.
“He is ready to play,” McCarthy said of Rodgers. “He has thrown the ball very well for three weeks.”
Rodgers was a full participant in practice for the first time since the injury, McCarthy said.
“It’s time to play football,” McCarthy said. “He just wants to focus on playing football.”
That gives the Packers a significant boost, with the winner of Sunday’s 3:25 p.m. game headed to the wild-card round of the playoffs as the NFC North champion. Rodgers is 9-3 in his career starting against the Bears, including the loss earlier this year, and a victory in the NFC Championship Game following the 2010 season.
“I know what’s at stake,” Rodgers said Tuesday on his radio show on WAUK-540 AM in Milwaukee. “This is an important week for us. We’re somehow back in this position to be able to get into the playoffs. What a better way to do that than against the Chicago Bears?”
The Bears could have locked up the NFC North with a victory Sunday night at Philadelphia but were blown out 54-11 by the Eagles in one of the most lopsided losses in franchise history. That gave the Packers continued life and, in this case, Rodgers a chance to return before Green Bay’s season was lost.
The Packers were 2-4-1 without Rodgers as the starter and quickly made it to Matt Flynn as their third fill-in as Seneca Wallace (one start) and Scott Tolzien (two starts) struggled. Flynn was 2-2 replacing Rodgers and there was hope Rodgers would have returned earlier this month.
But the team proceeded conservatively with the former MVP who signed a $110 million, five-year extension in April. He underwent a scan of his collarbone earlier this week before team officials reached the decision. McCarthy said last week that Rodgers looked “ready to play” against the Steelers but he couldn’t get medical clearance.
“I thought as of last week there’d be a lot more healing that would have gone on,” Rodgers said during his radio appearance. “Learned a lot about the clavicle and the kind of blood flow or lack of that it gets as being a reason it didn’t look as good as we all wanted it last week.”
Rodgers won six straight games in the rivalry before the most recent meeting. In 2012 and 2011, Rodgers threw 12 touchdown passes and only two interceptions in four games against the Bears, all victories.
The Packers turned to Wallace originally when Rodgers was hurt but the Bears won that game 27-20 as Josh McCown performed well and the offense controlled the clock in the fourth quarter. Wallace was injured and lost a start at Philadelphia the next week before Tolzien took over and started two games, a loss to the Giants and a tie with the Vikings engineered by Flynn in relief. Then Flynn, who earned a $26 million, three-year contract with the Seahawks after an initial run in Green Bay as a backup, was inserted as the starter. His first start was a disastrous 40-10 loss at Detroit on Thanksgiving but since he ha’s kept Green Bay competitive. The Packers beat the Falcons 22-21 and Cowboys 37-36 before losing to the Steleers 38-31 last week in a game in which Flynn made multiple critical errors, including a fumble deep in Packers’ territory.
Flynn lacks the arm strength to challenge defenses downfield and his decision making is flawed at times. Rodgers will provide a big boost in those areas but it remains to be seen how sharp he will be following such an extended layoff.
The Bears have been most vulnerable to the run this season and the status of rookie running back Eddie Lacy is up in the air. Lacy re-sprained an ankle in the loss to the Steelers. He rushed for 150 yards in the first meeting with the Bears. Lacy is eighth among backs in the NFL with 1,112 yards rushing and tied for third with 10 touchdowns.
McCarthy said he expected Lacy to be able to play.
The Packers could also get wide receiver Randall Cobb back for Sunday’s game. He has missed the last 10 games after suffering a fractured leg against the Ravens on Oct. 13. Cobb would provide Rodgers with a fuller complement of targets to go with Jordy Nelson, James Jones and Andrew Quarless but the Packers have been dealing with injuries all season.
The Bears (8-7) can also clinch the division with a tie on Sunday against the Packers (7-7-1).