Published: 13:51 EST, 13 December 2017 | Updated: 14:57 EST, 13 December 2017
GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) – The Green Bay Packers stayed afloat in the postseason race while hoping for nearly two months that Aaron Rodgers would return.
News that the two-time NFL MVP was cleared medically to return from a collarbone injury finally arrived Tuesday night, coming a bit later than coach Mike McCarthy hoped – but well worth the wait for the playoff-hopeful Packers.
Rodgers is in line to start this weekend against the Carolina Panthers.
In this Nov. 26, 2017, photo, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers watches warmups before an NFL football game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Pittsburgh. Rodgers has been "medically cleared to return" to action after missing seven games with a broken right collarbone, the quarterback announced on Instagram Tuesday night, Dec. 12. (AP Photo/Don Wright)
"Next step is preparing to play this week," McCarthy said before practice Wednesday.
It's back to a normal week of preparation for Rodgers after making what McCarthy had considered great progress from right collarbone surgery. He was hurt against Minnesota on Oct. 15 and had the procedure four days later.
"It's been a long road … but I'm happy to say I've been medically cleared to return," Rodgers wrote on Instagram Tuesday night. "Thanks for all the love, support, prayers and well wishes over the past 8 weeks and a big thank you to Dr. (Pat) McKenzie and our incredible training staff."
The Packers (7-6) went 3-4 with backup Brett Hundley starting to stay in the playoff race, including a 27-21 victory in overtime last week over Cleveland. They are one of four teams with at least seven wins chasing Atlanta for the second wild-card berth in the NFC.
Rodgers is eligible to be activated Friday, eight weeks after initially going on injured reserve. But the preparation has already started. McCarthy said there would be extra individual work in practice.
Rodgers, though, has looked good throwing the ball in brief periods when he has been before cameras, including pregame in Pittsburgh before the 31-28 loss to the Steelers on Nov. 26.
He returned to practice on what McCarthy called a "trial return" on Dec. 2, and led the scout team last week. The collarbone was scanned on Monday to determine he was ready to return.
The Packers are known for their conservative approach in dealing with injuries. Rodgers is known for his competitiveness.
"They laid out the gantlet of what needed to be done, he ran through it," McCarthy said of the medical staff's evaluation of Rodgers.
"You have to trust the people, the expertise, the care and we all understand the importance of every play coming back in this situation, especially Aaron's specific injury. … We went through that process and this is where we are today."
It did make for a late Tuesday night of preparation for the coaching staff before McCarthy was finally able to return home.
"I have Elf on the Shelf responsibilities and I didn't get to it (until) midnight last night," the coach joked.
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