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GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers has been medically cleared.

The Green Bay Packers quarterback made it official on Tuesday night, on the eve of the first practice in advance of Sunday’s game at Carolina. Rodgers made the announcement in an Instagram post after a long day of discussion with medical personnel led by team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie.
One day earlier, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers underwent tests to determine how much his surgically repaired right collarbone had healed.

“It is now in the evaluation stage,” McCarthy said late Monday afternoon. “Dr. McKenzie is reviewing it. There’s a number of medical opinions that will be involved in a decision, so at this time, I do not have a clean decision for you or an update. That’s where it stands.”

The matchup with the Panthers is the first game for which Rodgers is eligible to return, according to injured reserve rules, since he broke his right collarbone against the Minnesota Vikings on Oct. 15, when Anthony Barr hit him and landed on him following a pass.
It had been an on-schedule recovery for Rodgers following his Oct. 19 surgery in California, where he had screws and plates inserted into his right clavicle. Rodgers was placed on injured reserve the next day, ensuring he would have to sit out at least eight games. He returned to practice on Dec. 2, the day he turned 34.

From the first time he was seen doing some drills off to the side a month ago to his first public throwing session before the Nov. 26 game in Pittsburgh to running the scout team in practice last week, Rodgers has impressed his coaches and teammates along the way. Clay Matthews even joked that Rodgers looked so good during the rehab process that the Packers shouldn’t have put him on injured reserve.

“Well if he comes back, like I’ve been saying, arguably the best quarterback in the league, back to your team, everyone is going to get better,” Matthews said after Sunday’s overtime win at Cleveland. “Not only him being out there, but also the shot in the arm as we talk about him coming back. Watching him in practice and what he’s been able to do these past couple weeks, getting more and more reps in practice and throwing on the pads, I think it’s a good sign. I’m not going to speak on his behalf, but we sure hope he’s ready and if he is, we’re going to expect the Aaron of old.”

Rodgers was off to one of his best starts before his injury at Minnesota. Through five weeks, he led the NFL in touchdown passes (13) and had thrown just three interceptions. He engineered a comeback victory in overtime to beat the Bengals at home in Week 3 and did it again with a last-minute touchdown pass to Davante Adams at Dallas two weeks later to lead the Packers to a 4-1 start.
The Packers lost at Minnesota when Brett Hundley took over following Rodgers’ injury, but Hundley won three of the next seven games to keep the Packers alive in the playoff race at 7-6.

“My No. 1 thought going into it was keep our hopes alive to make the playoffs and we’re still in it,” Hundley said.

Rodgers missed seven games when he broke his left collarbone in 2013, and the Packers went 2-4-1 in his absence. He did not undergo surgery that time and returned for the regular-season finale at Chicago, a game the Packers had to win to make the playoffs. Rodgers threw the game-winning touchdown pass to Randall Cobb in the final minute to win the NFC North at 8-7-1.

“We’ve got a chance,” Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari said. “We know what the magic number is. We still have everything in front of us, so when he comes back, we’re in playoff football. We’ve already talked about that, and these games matter. It’s go time.”

Rookie Josh Jones hit, intercept him into the team defense plan

GREEN BAY, Wis. — When rookie Josh Jones kept making play after play in the offseason practices, there was the typical guarded reaction around the Green Bay Packers.

“We like to reserve judgment when it’s just helmets and shorts,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers said at the time. “But I think he looks the part.”

Two days into full-pads practices, Jones continues to make plays.
On Monday, he not only came up with his first training camp interception, but he also had a pass breakup and at least one quarterback pressure that would have been a sack had he been allowed to deliver a hit.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy on versatile defender Josh Jones: "He plays with a tenacity, he's always around the football."

Packers coach Mike McCarthy on versatile defender Josh Jones: “He plays with a tenacity, he’s always around the football.”

“I’m excited to see what he does in preseason,” veteran cornerback Davon House said.

If Jones continues on his current path, he’ll likely pass that test as well. The second-round pick from N.C. State is on course for a significant role on defense, whether it’s at safety or inside linebacker — or some combination of both.
Jones and another hard-hitting young player, Kentrell Brice, appear to be in a battle for playing time in a package called “Nitro” in which defensive coordinator Dom Capers uses a safety — usually Jones or Morgan Burnett — at inside linebacker and then plays five defensive backs.

“He’s for sure a thumper,” House said of Jones. “He made a pick today, so he can cover, too.”

Jones’ interception came on a perfectly timed break on a pass Brett Hundley threw to the flat for running back Devante Mays. Jones said he read the play the entire way.

“I expected him to throw that,” Jones said. “And I was going to be there.”

Jones’ hard-hitting mentality almost caused a fight in the first padded practice, when he hit rookie receiver Malachi Dupre and then got an earful from veteran tight end Richard Rodgers. Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels said it has already become clear that Jones is “here for business” — an attitude that he says the Packers need more of on defense.

“He’s exactly who we thought he was,” Daniels said of Jones. “He comes in with the right attitude, comes on the field with bad intentions. He has the right type of attitude that you want on defense. It’s nice to have him here. He’s already setting himself up to be a great leader here, just by the way he goes about his business.”

Said Packers coach Mike McCarthy: “He plays with a tenacity, he’s always around the football. He’s very instinctive, has that excellent range, so he’s off to a good start.”

As for Jones’ next step — that preseason opener on Aug. 10 against the Eagles — there’s little reason to think he won’t keep doing what he has done.

“I don’t look backwards, I don’t look forwards,” Jones said. “Today is the day. What I did today is in the past. Now I’m looking on what can I improve? I’m not worried about Aug. 10. I’m not worried about what happened yesterday. It’s just, I’m focused on what I did today.”

Bakhtiari: The packer’s playoff troubles began to disappoint me

The Green Bay Packers have made the playoffs every year since David Bakhtiari entered the league in 2013, including two NFC Championship Game appearances in the 2014 and 2016 seasons.

For most NFL players, that’s a good start to a career. For the Packers offensive lineman, it’s nowhere near good enough.

“It’s starting to [tick] me off a little bit,” Bakhtiari said, via the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “You’re not guaranteed another year. Keep getting close and not making it is stressful. We’ve got to collectively — we’ve got to do more. … The Green Bay Packers — I mean, the trophy is the Lombardi Trophy. We have to get back there and win it.”

While Bakhtiari is probably being a little hard on himself, expecting rings and not relishing the feat that he and his teammates have accomplished thus far in his short career, his comments reflect some quiet hand-wringing that has to be going on in Green Bay.

The Packers have one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game. Yet there’s only one Super Bowl ring to show for Aaron Rodgers’ sterling career so far. The team has also won the NFC North five out of the past six years, but has only advanced out of the divisional round of the playoffs twice in those seasons.

With Rodgers slated to turn 34 during the 2017 season, there’s certainly more pressure to add more Super Bowls before Father Time catches up to the All-Pro. As Bakhtiari points out, the anxiety level is only going to continue to rise as long as the Packers only have that one ring — and several disappointing playoff finishes — to show for all of Rodgers’ team’s flare the past decade.

Packers-Lions game for NFC North flexed to ‘Sunday Night Football’

If the Green Bay Packers run the table, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers suggested was possible after their 4-6 start, everyone will get the chance to see it.

The Packers’ regular-season finale against the Detroit Lions on Jan. 1 has been moved into the prime-time slot. It will be on NBC at 8:30 p.m. ET.

The winner will take home the NFC North title and the home playoff game that comes with it.

For the Packers, it’s the fourth straight year their Week 17 game has been for the division title. They’ve won two of the past three — in 2013 against the Chicago Bears and 2014 against the Lions. The Vikings beat the Packers at Lambeau Field in last year’s finale for the division title, although both teams made the playoffs. That game also was moved to prime time.

For the Lions, it would be their first division title since 1993, when they were in the old NFC Central, and their first NFC North crown. It would also be their second playoff berth in three years.

Detroit’s game on Monday against the Dallas Cowboys has no bearing on the NFC North title, although the Lions could clinch a playoff spot with a win.

The Packers (9-6) won the season’s first meeting against the Lions on Sept. 25 at Lambeau Field and also won last year’s game at Ford Field on Rodgers’ Hail Mary touchdown.

“Well, it’s going to be fun,” Rodgers said after Saturday’s win over the Vikings. “It’s going to be a loud environment obviously over there in Detroit, we’ve won a lot of big games over there, but Matt [Stafford]‘s had a fantastic year, their defense’s definitely improved. We haven’t played them since I think Week 3, so it’ll be a lot of film to catch up on and see how they’re playing, but a lot of very good players on their defense, and offensively Matt’s done a great job of spreading it around to their playmakers. So it’s going to be a fun one.”

The NFL is billing it as Game 256 — the last of the 256 games in the regular season.

The Packers and Lions both could make the playoffs, but the outcome of the game between the New York Giants and Washington Redskins earlier on Jan. 1 will help determine that.

That game has been moved into the 4:25 p.m. time slot along with the New Orleans Saints vs. Atlanta Falcons. The New England Patriots-at-Miami Dolphins game also will be played at 4:25 p.m. unless both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs win on Christmas Day. If so, that game will remain at 1 p.m.

Clay Matthews says ‘cheap shot’ by Eagles’ Allen Barbre to blame for shoulder injury

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Clay Matthews has a separated AC joint in his left shoulder, and he’s not happy about what caused it.

The Green Bay Packers linebacker was injured Monday night in a win when Eagles right tackle Allen Barbre delivered a blindside block on an end-around in the first quarter.

“I wasn’t a fan of it,” Matthews said of Barbre’s block. “I mean, I’ve got a lot more to say about it, but I’m going to say it behind closed doors. It was a cheap shot, but it is what it is. I ate it. Unfortunately, I landed on my shoulder, and that’s kind of what I’ve been dealing with since.”

Matthews said he wasn’t sure if it was legal block by Barbre, who wasn’t penalized on the 3-yard gain by Eagles receiver Bryce Treggs.

“I don’t know. They didn’t throw a flag probably because I wasn’t a quarterback,” Matthews said. “I know all about that.”

Barbre and Matthews were teammates in Green Bay during the 2009 season.

Matthews, who was forced to move to inside linebacker against the Eagles because of injuries to starters Blake Martinez and Jake Ryan, said he took a pain-killing injection in order to return to the game. Safety Morgan Burnett had to take a few snaps at inside linebacker while Matthews was in the locker room getting examined.

“I’m in some pain, no doubt about it,” said Matthews, whose status for Sunday night against Houston remains up in the air. “There’s some swelling [and] bruising, but we got an X-ray and nothing’s broken, so that’s good. So we’ll see moving forward the progress I make going into this game. That’s ultimately the goal, but we’ve got some work to.”

Earlier Wednesday, coach Mike McCarthy expressed confidence that both Matthews and quarterback Aaron Rodgers would play against the Texans. Rodgers pulled his left hamstring in the third quarter against the Eagles, and his mobility was limited after trainers taped his leg.

Although Rodgers said it was too early in the week to tell how the injury might impact him, McCarthy said he did not expect it to be as limiting as the calf injury that Rodgers sustained late in the 2014 season.

“The calf injury, that was a big injury,” McCarthy said Wednesday. “We made a ton of adjustments. And for him to play through that was extraordinary. But we’ll see how he is. I really don’t want to comment until I see him move around tomorrow.”

In a rare move, McCarthy did not hold a practice Wednesday. He said that was his plan all along coming off back-to-back night games.

“It probably doesn’t help where I’m at physically, but I think [not practicing] is a good idea,” Rodgers said.

Aaron Rodgers: Packers, at 4-6, can close with 6 straight wins

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers ended his postgame news conference after Sunday night’s loss at Washington by saying he’s “very optimistic” the Green Bay Packers can still turn their season around.

No one asked him why until three days later.

When presented with the natural, albeit delayed, follow-up question on Wednesday, Rodgers took it a step — or six — further.

“I feel like we can run the table, I really do,” Rodgers said. “The offense is starting to click a little bit more, we’ve just got to put together a game where we’re more consistent from the first snap to the last. We’ve been, I think, getting closer to that. We’ve really been clicking at times in the last few games. But it’s going to be important that we get going early. We had three three-and-outs to start the [Washington] game, but overall on the season, we’ve done a better job of limiting our three-and-outs, we’ve been sustaining drives pretty well.”

At 4-6 with six games remaining, the Packers stand two games out of first place in the NFC North behind co-leaders Detroit and Minnesota. The Lions and Vikings play on Thanksgiving so even if the Packers end their four-game losing streak with a win Monday night at Philadelphia, they’re still going to be two games behind the division leader.

While Rodgers learned Wednesday that he won’t get back running back Eddie Lacy, who will remain on injured reserve for the remainder of the season, he praised the addition of running back Christine Michael, who was claimed off waivers from Seattle last week, and the return of tight end Jared Cook, who had six catches for 105 and a touchdown against the Redskins after missing six games because of a sprained right ankle.

“You just feel like it just takes one,” Rodgers said. “We get one under our belts, things might start rolling for us and we can run the table.”

Receiver Jordy Nelson likened this season to 2010, when the Packers were 8-6 with two weeks remaining, were in danger of missing the playoffs and there was heat on coach Mike McCarthy. That season, they won their last two games and went on to the Super Bowl.

Nelson said Rodgers’ comments were more than just locker-room rah-rah.

“I think everyone in here probably believes that, to be honest,” Nelson said. “That’s how we started the year. I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a team here where we went into a game thinking there’s no way we’re going to win this game. Even if our backs are against the wall. If you look at the year we won the Super Bowl and people were counting us out and, honestly (people) were wanting to fire Mike back then when we lost at Detroit and went to New England and we lost and had to win out to make the playoffs. Every playoff game we’ve been in, every regular-season game we’ve been in we thought we were going to win. I think that’s just how confident we are. I think the things we’ve done in the past allow us to be that confident. We just have to go out and do it on the field.”

The problem, however, might not be on Rodgers’ side of the ball. The defense has allowed 40-plus points in each of the last two games.

Still, Rodgers said it’s incumbent upon him to make sure he plays “at a really high level” and “do what I’ve always done and be a little bit better every time I’m out there.”

“I know a lot is going to be on our shoulders especially the way we’re starting games out,” Rodgers said. “We have to start faster, I have to be sharper from the start and I will be. And I’m confident that if we can get this thing started out a little better each week that we can get on that roll and be tough to stop. Now we have to go out and do it. It’s just idle words right now, but I’m confident in our guys and I’m confident we’ll respond on Monday.”

Brett Favre Elite Jersey

GREEN BAY, Wis. — The unveiling of Brett Favre(Brett Favre Jersey)’s retired No. 4 on the Lambeau Field facade on Thanksgiving night is a major event for the Green Bay Packers and the NFL’s smallest city.

Hours before the game, Favre was presented with a key to the city, and Cherry Starr said her ailing husband, Bart, will attend the game against the Chicago Bears.

“Bart has limited strength,” Cherry Starr said Thursday afternoon. “But he is going to walk on that field tonight.”

No wonder Packers coach Mike McCarthy called it a “once-in-a-lifetime event” earlier this week.

But back at Favre’s home in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, the monumental event barely registered in his household. Speaking at a Thanksgiving luncheon for the Rawhide Boys Ranch — a charity Bart and Cherry Starr helped start nearly 50 years ago — Favre said the significance of it all didn’t hit him until he arrived in Green Bay on Wednesday.

“I never really thought about it,” Favre said. “No one wants to hear around our house what I did. I don’t walk around, saying, ‘Hey, I was pretty good.’ No one cares, because two nights ago I was taking out the trash. I was carrying the trash out, and I was like, ‘I’m getting ready to have my jersey retired, and here I am taking out the trash.’ Oh well.

“I guess the point in all that, it’s pretty amazing, it’s pretty cool. … I never dreamed of the unveiling of my jersey. I never dreamed of the Hall of Fame. Granted, that’s awesome. But I dreamed of playing. Very few people can probably say this: The dreams that I had as a kid, mine have come true and then some.”

It will be Favre’s first time at a game in Lambeau Field since 2010, his final NFL season with the Minnesota Vikings.

“[Packers fans] were giving me the No. 1 [sign], but it was a different No. 1,” Favre said. “It was like, ‘Oh, that’s not a wave.’”

But the mending process began over the summer, when Favre was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame. As part of that event on July 18, Favre made an appearance in the stadium bowl in front of more than 67,000 fans, who welcomed him back after an ugly split in 2008.

“We had a good thing going here,” Favre said Thursday of his departure in 2008. “But it’s all worked out now. It’s unfortunate how things worked out, but in the end, it’s all worked out.”

It also will be the first time Favre will see Aaron Rodgers play in person since their last head-to-head meeting. Favre heaped praise on his successor, saying, “He’s almost too good.”

“I mean that with all due respect,” Favre said. “It’s like, ‘Crap, why don’t he make a mistake every once in a while?’ All my good records are going to be taken, and all my bad ones I’m going to keep. Throw four picks in a game, would you? Or six. I tried that one time, too. Four of them were not my fault.

“When I watch him, he’s good. I don’t know what else to tell you. To me a really great quarterback, you really know if a guy’s great if he can carry his team when the rest of the team’s just OK and they lose guys and they plug guys in, but yet they still win.”