Aaron Nagler speaks with Michael Cohen of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about the decision by the Green Bay Packers to place quarterback Aaron Rodgers back on injured reserve. USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin


GREEN BAY - The long-awaited return of Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers turned sour when three interceptions and a matador defense doomed a potential run toward the postseason in Sunday’s loss to the Carolina Panthers. Two days later, the return officially ended.

Rodgers, who returned to the starting lineup after missing seven games with a broken collarbone, was placed on injured reserve Tuesday to make official the end of a forgettable season. The remaining two games — against the Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions — will belong to backup Brett Hundley with the Packers eliminated from the playoff race.

“The decision to put Aaron on injured reserve was really a product of a number of different factors, and really, frankly, was what we felt was best for Aaron,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “He was sore, took a number of hits in Sunday’s game. We felt this was the best decision.

“He’s not happy about it. It’s a hard day for him. This is not the way — I don’t think — any player wants to see their season come to a conclusion, being on IR. We all understand and appreciate and respect his competitive spirit, but we felt as an organization this was in his best interest.

“I think clearly Aaron’s effort and everything he put in to get back and play shows you the will and the character of the football team. He’s the leader, and I thought he played — he did a lot of really good things in the Carolina game. To play and come back and have the challenge, I mean, they’re an excellent defense. But yes, I think it shows you his competitive spirit and his will to be a champion.”

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McCarthy quashed the notion that Rodgers suffered a setback against the Panthers or did any additional damage to his surgically repaired collarbone, and instead harkened back to an idea the quarterback himself has proffered over the years: That there are times when the medical staff, and specifically team physician Patrick McKenzie, have needed to save Rodgers from himself.

In other words, from the Packers’ standpoint, why risk the health of your franchise quarterback for two games that don’t matter?

“With all the factors involved, we felt this was clearly in Aaron Rodgers’ best interest,” said McCarthy, who repeated the phrase several times in his Tuesday news conference.

Instead, the collective gaze turns toward the future and continued development of Hundley, who went 3-4 as a starter in Rodgers' absence with performances smeared across the quarterback spectrum, volatility reflective of inexperience.  

There were gritty overtime wins against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Cleveland Browns. There were embarrassments against the Vikings, who intercepted Hundley three times in relief of Rodgers, and the Baltimore Ravens, who forced Hundley into four turnovers and held the Packers without a point. He completed 63.9 percent of his passes, which is tied for 13th among qualified quarterbacks, but married every touchdown pass (8) with an interception (8).  

These final two games will measure Hundley’s growth in the absence of serious consequence.

“He’s going to have a chance to take the reps from the beginning of the week and prepare,” McCarthy said. “But I think the fact that he did get to play against (Minnesota’s) defense and the circumstances that he had to play under was a huge, huge challenge. I know for as many things that went wrong that day, he felt like he got better. I think that shows the importance of live action; that’s why statistics don’t always tell the story.

“Very important for Brett Hundley. He’s excited. He gets another opportunity. … These are opportunities that you can’t get in preseason. To play against this high a caliber of opponent at this time of year — this will be his first cold game, under 10 degrees or 15 degrees or whatever it comes in, so this is a great experience for Brett.”

Hundley’s backup will be Joe Callahan, whom the Packers re-signed to the 53-man roster Tuesday. Callahan had been released before Sunday’s game against the Panthers, but the Packers always intended to bring him back if he cleared waivers.

It does not appear, however, that the Packers have any intention of playing Callahan in either game barring injury. The show will belong to Hundley, who is likely to be Rodgers’ backup again next season.

What remains unclear is how the playing time for other veterans will be influenced by the Packers’ failure to make the playoffs, and McCarthy seemed to offer conflicting messages.

He interrupted a reporter who asked about reps for younger players to say the coaches are preparing to win the game. But later, when asked about Hundley, McCarthy said Saturday is “important for any of the younger players that may get to play more in this game.” He also said additional roster moves should be made by Wednesday afternoon.

Either way, McCarthy made it clear he won’t roll over in the absence of Rodgers.

“I’m not really interested in being a spoiler or an underdog,” McCarthy said. “We’re the Green Bay Packers. That doesn’t change. Their record doesn’t change that, in my view. They’re coming into Lambeau Field. We fully expect to win the game.

“They have a lot to play for. They’re playing extremely well. Their tape is excellent. Their continuity is as good as we’ve probably seen all year. They’re very well-coordinated offense, defense and special teams. We’re just getting ready for the challenge. I fully expect and demand that our team goes out to win the game."