GREEN BAY — Aaron Rodgers hinted late in the season that his troublesome left knee would need at least some form of minor surgery after he injured it in the first game of the year and spent the rest of the season dealing with pain and discomfort in it.
Turns out, Dr. Rodgers — he does have an honorary degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin, remember — decided against surgery and took another approach to healing instead.
Speaking publicly for the first time since leaving the Green Bay Packers’ 31-0 season-ending loss to the Detroit Lions with a concussion, Rodgers said on the eve of Super Bowl LIII that he eschewed surgery and indicated his knee is back to 100 percent.
“I feel great. My body feels really good,” Rodgers said during a red-carpet interview with the NFL Network before the NFL Honors awards show Saturday evening, during which he was presented with the Moment of the Year Award by his Packers predecessor, Brett Favre.
Rodgers won the award for leading the Packers to 24-23 victory over the Chicago Bears in the Sept. 9 regular-season opener after trailing 20-0 and after Rodgers went to the locker room during the first half with what appeared to be a major knee injury. Rodgers came back after halftime and engineered the biggest comeback of his NFL career.
Unfortunately for the Packers, it was one of the few highlights during a disappointing 6-9-1 finish that saw Rodgers battle pain in the knee throughout the season, which led to limited mobility for most of the first half of the year and cost him valuable practice time during the week for the first two-plus months of the season.
“Instead of getting surgery post-season, (I) decided to kind of go through a different routine with my knee than I’ve done in the past,” Rodgers said. “And I’m feeling really, really good.”
Rodgers said the concussion has “cleared up” and that after traveling with his girlfriend, retired race car driver Danica Patrick, to Hawaii and New Zealand, he’s ready to resume his usual offseason workout regimen.
“I’m feeling really, really good. I’m getting back into my workout routine,” Rodgers said. “But the first month of the offseason is a lot about yoga and traveling.”
Asked about new coach Matt LaFleur, who was hired Jan. 9, Rodgers said he is “excited” about the new start but admitted that change can be challenging. In his first 14 NFL seasons, Rodgers has played for only three coaches: Mike Sherman, the coach for Rodgers’ rookie season in 2005; Mike McCarthy, who took over in 2006 and was Rodgers’ coach until he was fired on Dec. 2; and Joe Philbin, the former Packers offensive coordinator who served as the team’s interim coach for the final four games of the season.
“A lot of change in life is tough at first, but it usually works out for the best,” Rodgers said. “So I’m excited about what’s going on in Green Bay and the future there.”
In an interview with ESPN Wisconsin late last month, LaFleur said he and Rodgers have had “multiple conversations” since his hiring and that his experience coaching Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan helped him understand the approach he’ll need to take with Rodgers, who at age 35 is just four years younger than LaFleur.
“I’ll tell you what, the one thing that came across early is how passionate he is for the game of football and how much he wants to win,” LaFleur said of his chats with Rodgers. “There’s nothing that’s going to stand in his way of really getting after it.
“I’m looking forward to working with him and continuing our relationship. And I really do view that (as important). Just philosophically, I think that anytime you have a quarterback of his stature — I went through this with Matt Ryan in Atlanta, a guy who’s had success — it is a partnership. Not only offensively but as a team, as a leader. And guys are going to follow guys of their caliber.”
Ryan, meanwhile, appeared on ex-University of Wisconsin star Joe Thomas’ podcast on Saturday and predicted that Rodgers and LaFleur will have no trouble connecting. Ryan played two seasons with LaFleur as his quarterbacks coach and won his first NFL MVP award in 2016, the second of their two years together.
“I think it’s a good hire. I spent two years with Matt in Atlanta; he was a really good quarterbacks coach,” Ryan said on the Thomahawk podcast. “I think he’s built for long-term success. He has a system he believes in. I think it’ll be a really good fit for what Aaron does. They can move him around and the zone run scheme is really good. the protection scheme keeps it simple, and I think he’ll do a good job in Green Bay.
“I think they’ll work well (together). Matt was ... really good at striking the balance between being supportive and having your back, but also coaching you hard and knowing how to get the best out of you. I think those guys will be good.”