GREEN BAY, Wis. -- If this is the week that Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers gets cleared to return to action, it's not going to happen before coach Mike McCarthy and his staff start crafting an offensive game plan for the Dallas Cowboys.
McCarthy said Monday that Rodgers has not been cleared for the Cowboys game and that backup Matt Flynn would be prepped to be the starter. Rodgers will step up his rehabilitation program Tuesday and undergo an evaluation Wednesday morning to see whether his left collarbone is healed enough for him to play.
"They're going to do some things tomorrow that they haven't done last week," McCarthy said of the workout.
Rodgers has taken part in individual drills during practice the last two weeks and wore shoulder pads for the first time last Thursday. He never progressed further than throwing in the jog-through portion of practice and wasn't where he needed to be at the end of last week.
"Visiting with Aaron yesterday about where he is, he has hurdles to go over and medically he's not cleared," McCarthy said. "So we're planning for Matt Flynn."
The Packers have not shared much detail about what has gone into deciding whether Rodgers is ready to return, although on Monday McCarthy said Rodgers still needed to make progress with "strength and comfort." Exactly what the requirements are for Rodgers to meet aren't known.
David Chao, former head team physician for the San Diego Chargers who writes a column entitled "Monday Morning MD" for National Football Post, wrote Monday that there is no exact science for determining when it's safe for a patient with Rodgers' injury to return.
"If a player said to me 'I don't want to return until I'm fully healed,' I would say, 'See you next year,"' Chao said in a phone interview Monday. "But if he says he really wants to play and accepts some of the risk, the question becomes at what time do you push the threshold of risk.
"His jersey could be clean (Sunday) and then you say he could have played three weeks ago. But if he reinjures it, then people second-guess why you let him play. It's really a risk-reward analysis."
At this point of recovery a CAT scan is the only way to tell whether the cracked bone has mended, Chao said. Rodgers underwent a scan seven days ago and was deemed unready to return to the field by team physician Patrick McKenzie.
At that time, he was four weeks into the healing process doctors say can take anywhere from four to eight weeks.
Chao said he assumed the evaluation Wednesday would include another scan to see how much more healing has taken place. However, he said there weren't huge leaps in healing that occur and ultimately McKenzie has to be confident with the information he has on hand.
Even then it's not cut and dried because there is no way the risk will ever be zero this season.
"It's like when deciding whether it's time to get a haircut," Chao said. "When is it too long? When has it been enough time?"
Chao said he tried to be a player advocate and allow patients to have a say in how much risk they were willing to take, but he said every physician is different and each takes the long-term consequences of his decision very seriously.
He said McKenzie could be considered a traditionalist in the profession, but in no way would he second-guess any decision he made. He said McKenzie has an excellent reputation and is consistent in his philosophy of weighing risk vs. reward.
McCarthy was asked if Rodgers had any say in the risk portion of the decision and he said, "Obviously, when a player is in a rehab position, there's conversation and obviously all the testing is done. That meeting goes on and ultimately Pat has to clear him. Dr. McKenzie has to clear the player."
McKenzie not only has his own professional standards but he is in charge of protecting the team's assets, of which Rodgers is greater than all but Lambeau Field itself. The Packers are still in the playoff hunt despite a 6-6-1 record, so a reward aspect of the equation still exists.
Rodgers has said he badly wants to play and expressed disappointment that he wasn't cleared last week for the Atlanta Falcons game, which the Packers won, 22-21, with Flynn at quarterback. Winning at Dallas is going to be a much tougher proposition than beating the 3-10 Falcons and it's logical to think the Packers' only chance is if Rodgers plays.
Chao said the medical staff probably would watch to see how easily Rodgers moves his upper body during the workout Tuesday and whether there is any sign he isn't functioning as he had been previously.
"They just want to make sure there are no hitches in his delivery," Chao said. "The main thing is that he's not inhibited when he's handing off with his left arm and that he's able to hold it high and tight with both hands on the ball."
McCarthy and his staff began working on their game plan Monday night, but Tuesday is when they gather and go through what they plan to run in the game. They constantly adjust the game plan based on what they see in practice, so there is wiggle room to change the plan if Rodgers suddenly becomes available.
"As far as what would be in or not be in, there wouldn't be any problem making adjustments," offensive coordinator Tom Clements said. "We wouldn't make wholesale changes. A lot of the things we're doing with Matt, we do with Aaron. Maybe (it would be) tweaked a little bit, but not a big deal."
Based on how things worked last week, if Rodgers isn't cleared Wednesday, it's hard to imagine him being cleared this week. Since he hasn't played in five weeks, he's not going to be able to go until Friday or Saturday without practicing and be ready to play against the Cowboys.
It would then be Flynn's turn again.
McCarthy said the game plan against the Falcons was to run the ball a lot even though the no-huddle package was used. The Packers only averaged 3.1 yards per carry on called running plays and that meant Flynn wound up throwing 32 times, completing 24 for 258 yards and a touchdown with one interception.
"Frankly, we would have liked to have more production than we had running the ball, but I thought Matt was able to get into a rhythm, clean plays, hit the shot play when he had the opportunity to Jordy (Nelson)," McCarthy said. "Completion percentage was 75 percent, and I think we had three or four drops, so he played very well."
As of right now, Flynn is preparing to play again.
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