GREEN BAY — Mike McCarthy was the Green Bay Packers’ quarterbacks coach back in 1999, so he had a front row seat to see Brett Favre rally his team to three dramatic, last-minute, come-from-behind victories in the first month of the season — all with a busted up throwing hand.
Now in his 13th season as the Packers’ head coach, McCarthy has also seen his Aaron Rodgers play well while playing hurt — from a separated right (throwing) shoulder in 2008; to a torn calf muscle in his right leg in 2014; and to Sunday night, when Rodgers came back from what initially appeared to be a serious left knee injury to engineer a 24-23 comeback victory over the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field.
So, McCarthy knows a thing or two about watching an all-time great quarterback — and understands what such an inspiring victory can do for a team if it can capitalize on the confidence and momentum such a win can create.
“Absolutely. I think any time you talk about adversity — whether it’s mental, physical, emotional — you look at those opportunities and you clearly want to build on them,” McCarthy said. “So many games come down to the end, and that was definitely one of them (Sunday) night. So, there’s a lot to learn from and a lot to build off of.”
Of course, to parlay Sunday night’s thrilling victory into further success, it would surely help to have Rodgers back at quarterback next Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings. And as of Monday afternoon, McCarthy was unwilling to say that will definitely happen.
“We do have some information (but) no decision has been made,” McCarthy said. “We’re still collecting all the information.”
Asked how the medical staff made the decision to allow Rodgers to return to the game in the second half — thereby allowing the two-time NFL MVP to complete 17 of 23 passes for 273 yards and three touchdowns (152.7 rating) to erase a 20-0 deficit, the largest comeback of his career — McCarthy didn’t really say.
Rodgers, who said after the game he plans to play against the Vikings, was in the locker room during the media access period and was not on crutches, walking gingerly, deliberately and slowly from his locker to the exit while talking with public relations staffer Tom Fanning. Rodgers is slated to speak with reporters after practice on Wednesday, as per his custom.
Rodgers was 15 years old when Favre was delivering those early-season comebacks in 1999 — which turned out to be a lost year, as the Packers went 8-8 under one-and-done coach Ray Rhodes — but Rodgers was Favre’s understudy from 2005 through 2007 and said he channeled his inner Favre when he came out of the tunnel after halftime determined to return to the game.
“Once I realized I wasn’t going to injure it any more if I went back out there, and I realized I could put a little bit of weight on it, I just figured the adrenaline would kick in,” Rodgers explained after the game. “You know, playing behind Brett Favre for three years, you realize you’ve got to be tough to play this position. You’ve got to. In that situation, it’s about coming back out and leading, and if you can do it, and deal with the pain, you should be out there.”
Rodgers acknowledged the knee became stiff and more painful as the game wore on, and said he tried to walk up and down the sideline during the fourth quarter to keep it loose. His efforts were effective enough to keep him on the field for Randall Cobb’s winning 75-yard catch-and-run with 2 minutes, 13 seconds left, but he admitted after the game that there was significant swelling and pain.
“As long as there are no major issues, then I’ll keep playing,” Rodgers said.
If for some reason he can’t, then backup DeShone Kizer would presumably get the call — even though the two series he played on Sunday night ended in turnovers.
The first, on a fumble just outside the red zone that saw new Bears edge rusher Khalil Mack sack Kizer and steal the ball from him, likely cost the Packers three points because they were in Mason Crosby’s field-goal range. The second, an errant screen pass that Mack intercepted and returned 27 yards for a touchdown just before halftime, put the Packers in a 17-0 hole.
The Packers also will likely have third-stringer Tim Boyle, an undrafted rookie from Eastern Kentucky, active for the game as a precaution after deactivating him on Sunday night.
“You’ve got to prepare as if you’re the starter every week. I think we have a pretty good process that we were able to go through last week,” Kizer said. “Tim and I, I’ll continue to stay on that path and hopefully be prepared for next week.
“The biggest emphasis now is proving to my teammates that when the ball is in my hands, they can trust that the ball is going to be out of harm’s way.”
But with all due respect to Kizer, his teammates would understandably rather have the ball in Rodgers’ hands next Sunday against Minnesota. Even Kizer himself, still slightly in awe of what he’d seen 18 hours earlier, would like that.
“It’s unbelievable. Obviously, (that was) one of the cooler games I’ve ever been a part of. It’s something I’ll forever keep close,” Kizer said. “That experience on the sideline, seeing the grit and the fight he had out there, that motivates me to hopefully be a future starter in this league.
“Obviously, when ‘12’ comes out and plays the way he does in the second half, it’ll be nice to see him go out there and command the team again. As far as my position, it’s about doing whatever I can to prepare as best as I can and take the reps I do get and try to prove to my teammates who I am.”