Rodgers' return opens up options for Packers

By GENARO C. ARMAS - AP Sports Writer
    2013-12-27 16:18

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) - The buffet line is open again for the Packers' offense with Aaron Rodgers back.

Coach Mike McCarthy has made a few adjustments to the playbook with the franchise quarterback back for the first time in nearly two months after breaking his left collarbone. Rodgers is expected to start Sunday in Green Bay's showdown in Chicago with the Bears for the NFC North title.

Keeping Rodgers untouched and upright is as paramount as ever. At the same time, the return of Rodgers figures to give the Bears' defense a dilemma that hasn't existed for Packers opponents in nearly two months - focus on the passing game at the expense of giving 1,100-yard rusher Eddie Lacy more room to run, or stop the run and give Rodgers more room to operate.

''Well, it's a lot like going to the restaurant. You have a menu. You decide what you want to use and what you probably shouldn't use,'' McCarthy said Friday about play-calling. Tweaks could also be made the next few days.

''You have to trust your plan, trust the process and we definitely trust Aaron Rodgers,'' McCarthy said.

It's hard not to after Rodgers helped lead Green Bay (7-7-1) to a 5-2 record before getting hurt Nov. 4 during the 27-20 loss to Chicago at Lambeau Field. The 2011 NFL MVP was a big reason why the team weathered the spate of early injuries.

The Packers were 2-5-1 without Rodgers, counting the loss to the Bears. McCarthy said Rodgers has looked good in his first couple days as a full practice participant this week since before the injury.

''The decision's been made. Obviously, it was a thorough one, and it's time for Aaron to play,'' McCarthy said. ''We're going to cut him loose and we're going to go play. We're going to play to win.''

Things could get even trickier for Chicago if the Packers activate playmaking receiver Randall Cobb from the injured reserve/designated for return list. Cobb has been moving well during the brief spurts of practice open to media.

Sidelined since October, Cobb was given extra work Friday to determine how he would feel Saturday, when the Packers could decide to activate him.

Green Bay knows it will already be without pass-rushing linebacker Clay Matthews, who had surgery this week after re-aggravating a right thumb injury. There's no timeline for his return, and it appears highly unlikely that Matthews would be available for a first-round playoff game the weekend of Jan. 4 should the Packers beat Chicago on Sunday to win the NFC North.

Defensive coordinator Dom Capers should otherwise have a full complement of linebackers with inside man Brad Jones (ankle) and outside rushers Nick Perry (foot) and Mike Neal (abdomen) all listed as probable for the Bears game.

Chicago gave them trouble the last time around, when the Packers also didn't have Matthews. Matt Forte ran for 125 yards and a score, while physical receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery each had touchdown catches.

Marshall (6-foot-4) and Jeffery (6-3) have distinct height advantages over cornerbacks Sam Shields and Tramon Williams, each listed at 5-11.

''I have 100 percent confidence in our ability to cover them. It just becomes harder if they're allowed to push and pull and grab, and we're not allowed to stand our ground to stay with them,'' cornerbacks coach Joe Whitt said.

Aiding the Packers the last few weeks is an increase in takeaways that were too few and far between earlier in the year. Working against them is the absence again of Matthews, who has been OK this year when healthy but still had a team-high 7 1/2 sacks.

One star down, another star back. Rodgers doesn't play defense, but he can provide an emotional boost to players on that side of the ball.

''It'll be nice to see him back out there,'' Capers said. ''But I think our guys know, hey, we've got to go do our part, you know?''

Notes: Lacy was listed as probable after being limited in practice again this week with an ankle injury. ... Backup TEs Ryan Taylor and Jake Stoneburner are probable after each missed a day of practice this week due to illness. ''It's that time of year and we've had a couple guys go home,'' McCarthy said. ... The team signed undrafted rookie cornerback Jumal Rolle off the practice squad Friday.


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org


Follow Genaro Armas at http://twitter.com/GArmasAP

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