Charles Woodson was scared.
The former Green Bay Packers defensive back was never one to show vulnerability during his seven-year run as the team’s defensive leader. Supremely confident and capable of intimidating with a simple look, Woodson was usually the one creating fear, not feeling it.
But as he prepared for the team’s NFC Wild Card Playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings last January, having missed the final nine regular-season games because of a fractured collarbone, Woodson wasn’t sure how the bone would react to the first time he collided with a running back, the first time he fell to the ground, the first time he found himself in an awkward position.
“That was the scary part – because you don't know,” said Woodson, who played 63 snaps that night against the Vikings, registering six tackles, including one on running back Adrian Peterson for a 2-yard loss. “I really went into the game scared, not really knowing what was going to happen. I mean, you feel good about your shoulder being healed, but being in that position where you've broken it before, it's a funny feeling.
“Getting in there, getting that first tackle, hitting the ground a couple of times, having people fall on top of me on the side where I broke it – and to get up with no pain? Let me tell you, that was a load off my shoulder.”
No one knows for certain whether Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will get the clearance he needs to play in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field, a de facto playoff game that will give the winner the NFC North title and the first-round home playoff game that comes with it. Rodgers said on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPN Wisconsin on Tuesday that the collarbone had been scanned and that the team would make a decision on his status on Thursday, after the players and coaches return to work after the Christmas holiday.
If he does get the go-ahead to play, Rodgers won’t simply have to overcome the physical hurdles of playing after a seven-week layoff. He’ll have a mental hurdle to clear as well.
“I think so,” Rodgers admitted. “I think it’s a lot like preseason. When you have a long layoff, it’s always good to get that first hit in the preseason. You feel like you’re back in it. You go from the end of the season until the middle of August without taking a hit, so it’s always good to get that first good pop in as long as you can get back up. It’s probably the same thing coming back from an injury, making sure you’re able to get up. You take that first hit, you throw that first pass, the adrenaline starts going and you get right back into it.”
This is the longest Rodgers has ever been out of the starting lineup since becoming the Packers’ starter in 2008. He missed one game in 2010 with a concussion, and his longest layoff came at the end of the 2011 season, when he sat out the team’s meaningless regular-season finale, then the top-seeded Packers had a first-round playoff bye before losing to the New York Giants in the NFC Divisional Playoffs. He has said repeatedly that he’s not concerned about being rusty upon his return.
"I'm feeling better and not thinking about my injury at all," Rodgers said. "I think ultimately it comes down to, it's big on the medical side. Is the bone healed or is there a large risk of going back out there that's too great, that the organization would not want to put me out there?
"Obviously I want to be out there. I know what's at stake. This is an important week for us. We're somehow back in this position to be able to get into the playoffs. What a better way to do that than against the Chicago Bears?"
Rodgers suffered a non-displaced spiral fracture in his left (non-throwing) collarbone Nov. 4 against the Bears. He started practicing on a limited basis four weeks ago, had his workload gradually increase, has been pain-free for about two weeks and had hoped to get medical clearance for each of the past two games. The Packers are 2-5-1 since Rodgers’ injury, which occurred on the opening series of their 27-20 loss to the Bears.
Rodgers said that Dr. Patrick McKenzie, the team physician, has sent his scans to multiple other doctors for review, including the most recent scan, which Rodgers said on Tuesday afternoon had been done “within the last 24 hours.” Rodgers, McKenzie, coach Mike McCarthy and general manager Ted Thompson met multiple times on Tuesday before the team’s walkthrough practice and will reconvene on Thursday.
Rodgers also said that the time he has been sidelined has been in line with McKenzie’s initial prognosis, even though he has been trying to push the timeline in recent weeks. Rodgers also went out of his way to defend McKenzie, who has been criticized by some Packers fans for holding Rodgers back.
“If you want to be mad at anything in the situation, be mad at the fact my collarbone hasn’t healed the way we all wanted it to,” Rodgers said. “This is unfortunately a difficult injury that’s taken, in all honesty, the normal time to heal. [I] was hoping for an early comeback, and as of last week, it hasn’t happened.”
Rodgers also said that he has started to understand some of the intricacies of the injury and the long-term risks involved with reinjuring the collarbone to the point of needing surgical repair.
“I thought as of last week there’d be a lot more healing that would have gone on. [I have] learned a lot about the clavicle and the kind of blood flow or lack of that it gets as being a reason it didn’t look as good as we all wanted it last week,” Rodgers said. “Yeah, it’s been a frustrating process – difficult, obviously. I want to be out on the field with my teammates fighting for a playoff spot. I think we all wish it wasn’t as dramatic as it has been.
“But we have to go through the process … [There is] probably some frustration out there by the way things have been handled or the information sharing. But ultimately, it’s my body and my injury. There’s going to be a lot of opinions about it, but those people are making opinions about somebody else’s body, someone else’s collarbone, someone else’s future, someone else’s career. That’s an easy position to do.
“It’s easy to be an unnamed source. I think there’s a lot of courage in standing up and talking about things and putting your name behind it and not hiding behind something or throwing potentials or scenarios or acting like you know what’s going on. Ultimately, there’s four people who have a really good pulse of what’s going on. Everybody else is just making conjectures about what they think is really going on.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.