Aaron Rodgers’s comeback lasted all of seven days.
Sunday’s 31–24 loss to Carolina all but eliminated the Packers from the postseason hunt, so just 48 hours after Rodgers returned to the field for the first time since being activated off of injured reserve, he’s been sent back to IR. Brett Hundley will start Green Bay’s final two games, and the team re-signed third-string quarterback Joe Callahan.
After Rodgers broke his right collarbone in Week 6 against the Vikings, Green Bay held out hope that he could return late in the season for a potential playoff push. When he was finally activated off IR last week, those playoff hopes were in a precarious spot. The Packers needed to win all three of their remaining games to have a realistic shot at making the postseason, and then needed the teams tied with them or in front of them — Carolina, Atlanta, Seattle, Detroit, Dallas — to stumble at the finish line. The New York Times playoff machine gave them a 9 percent chance of making the playoffs, but in a Han Solo–worthy “Never tell me the odds” move, the Packers brought back their one-man miracle-maker.
But this time, Green Bay’s Jedi couldn’t summon the Force. Sunday’s loss came, in part, because Rodgers wasn’t his sharpest self. He threw three interceptions, the most he’s tossed in an outing since 2009, and he struggled with accuracy throughout the game.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy told reporters Tuesday that he didn’t second-guess the decision to start Rodgers against the Panthers, and though it might seem dumbfounding that Green Bay would bring Rodgers back for three hours, it was the right decision. The same plan worked before — in 2013, Rodgers broke his left collarbone in Week 8 before returning for the final game of the season against the Bears, and he led the Packers to a win and a playoff berth. Four years later, Green Bay was banking that he could do it again.
It made sense to bring Rodgers back from IR, and it makes just as much sense now to end his season for good. Rodgers’s collarbone is still healing, and the risk-reward ratio of aggravating his injury is starkly different now that the playoffs are out of the picture (and sitting him this week against Minnesota spares any chance of the Vikings hurting his shoulder twice in the same season). Rodgers wasn’t able to save Green Bay’s season, but the Packers had to try.