GREEN BAY, Wis. — If head coach Mike McCarthy planted any seed of doubt a short time earlier Wednesday, the man of the hour, the day and the week for the Green Bay Packers provided the definitive answer.
“I’m going on Sunday,” quarterback Aaron Rodgers asserted at his Lambeau Field locker. “It’s just a matter of how.”
Rodgers continued to be on the mend with a strained left calf. It has kept him off the field since his valiant return in the second half after aggravating the injury earlier in the game to lead Green Bay to an NFC North-clinching win over the Detroit Lions on Dec. 28.
Rodgers didn’t practice Wednesday, when Green Bay (12-4) started its on-field preparations for the divisional playoff game against the Dallas Cowboys (13-4) at Lambeau on Sunday.
“Well, I plan on Aaron playing Sunday,” McCarthy said. “(Wednesday’s) schedule was for him to stay exclusively in the training room. There’s still some things that he needs to work through. So we’ll see what (Thursday) brings, if he’ll be able to practice. It’s day to day, but everything points in the direction of him playing.”
Since McCarthy didn’t speak with deep conviction about Rodgers’ availability for Green Bay’s most important game to date, skepticism ensued about just how ready the presumptive NFL MVP is for game action again. That Rodgers wasn’t cleared by team doctor Pat McKenzie to get on the field Wednesday raised the uncertainty meter.
Having Rodgers involved in practice Thursday wasn’t ruled out. Short of that, however, he would have only what amounts to a jog-through for the team Saturday morning with no practice Friday to get any on-field reps before the game.
McCarthy insisted Rodgers hasn’t experienced a setback with the injured lower leg.
“I think he’s making the progress,” McCarthy said. “(But) it’s never enough for Aaron. I think the training staff feels good about it. We feel confident in the direction we’re going.”
What’s more, McCarthy reaffirmed his faith in Rodgers that what could amount to almost two full weeks of not practicing won’t hinder the veteran leader in carrying out the offensive game plan.
“Mentally, he’s right on top of it,” McCarthy said.
For his part, Rodgers is cautiously optimistic that he will be fully functional behind center Sunday, when temperatures are expected to be in the teens.
“We’ll see,” Rodgers said. “It’s Wednesday. So, hopefully, (the calf) keeps progressing.”
If Rodgers is restricted with his mobility during the game and can’t make some of his signature deep throws, the potency of Green Bay’s offense won’t necessarily be diminished.
Fortunately for the Packers, rugged running back Eddie Lacy is healthy entering the postseason and stands to be a major component of McCarthy’s game plan, depending on where things stand with Rodgers.
“Eddie was injured at the end of (last) year, played the last four or five games with a bad ankle,” McCarthy said. “Eddie was in a boot all week and then played on Sundays at this time last year. He feels better. He’s a better football player, in my opinion, this year than last year.”
An effective Lacy could be just what the second-seeded Packers need to not only pick up a gimpy Rodgers but offset facing the league’s top rusher in DeMarco Murray and avoid an upset loss to the third-seeded Cowboys.
Lacy’s 1,139 rushing yards and three 100-yard games paled in comparison with Murray’s team-record 1,845 rushing yards and 12 100-yard games during the regular season. Yet while Murray played with a broken hand late in the season, Lacy gained steam in the final weeks as the weather turned playoff-like cold in Green Bay.
Lacy averaged 98.7 yards and scored four touchdowns on the ground in the Packers’ last six games.
Given the crisp air of mystery with Rodgers’ health status, Lacy could be the difference maker in the league’s inaugural playoff matchup between a team (Packers) that went 8-0 at home and an opponent (Cowboys) that went 8-0 on the road.
“I think the way I run definitely helps it because it’s real cold and you don’t want to get hit,” Lacy said. “Just as much as I don’t want to get hit when it’s cold, defenders don’t want to hit me while it’s cold.”
This is the 32nd meeting between the teams. The Cowboys lead the series 16-15. The teams are meeting for the seventh time in the postseason. with Dallas holding a 4-2 edge.
Their last January encounter was the NFC Championship during the 1995 season, a 38-27 outcome in favor of the Cowboys as they knocked Green Bay out of the playoffs for the third straight year in games played at old Texas Stadium.
The only postseason meeting between the teams in Wisconsin is forever preserved in football lore as the Ice Bowl as the Packers pulled out a 21-17 win in the 1967 NFL Championship on Hall of Famer Bart Starr’s 1-yard touchdown sneak with 13 seconds left as the wind chill at Lambeau Field hovered around 50 degrees below zero.
The Packers also won the 1966 NFL Championship over the Cowboys at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, 34-27. Green Bay has won the last three meetings in regular-season play going back to 2009, including a 37-36 comeback victory on the road last season after the Packers trailed 26-3 at halftime.
—Head coach Mike McCarthy likes to get his team outside for practice late in the season, no matter how cold it gets.
Sticking to the script didn’t work out Wednesday, when the Packers held their first practice of the week before they host the Dallas Cowboys in a divisional playoff game Sunday.
Strong winds that turned already harsh temperatures into dangerous wind chills well below zero kept McCarthy from his preference of holding team drills on one of the Packers’ outdoor practice fields. They spent the entire practice inside The Don Hutson Center, where they typically go through the first half of the workout with position drills before venturing outside.
Though confined to the indoor facility, the players still practiced in the cold because McCarthy had the doors kept open.
“It’s 22 degrees inside, so that’s about what we’re looking for game time,” said McCarthy, adding in a humorous tone about those indoor conditions, “I was told it was an all-time Green Bay Packer record. So that’s a big deal when you do that.”
The forecast for Sunday’s game, which starts at 12:05 p.m. Central time, is a temperature in the high teens with a slight wind.
McCarthy dismissed the home-weather advantage the Packers purportedly would have for the matchup with the Cowboys, who play their home games in a dome. Plus, Dallas was the only team in the NFL to go 8-0 on the road in the regular season.
“I think football’s football,” McCarthy said. “I’m not counting on the weather.”