Pete Dougherty and Aaron Nagler look at the road ahead for Aaron Rodgers and the Packers after their loss to the Panthers in Carolina. USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
GREEN BAY – Mike McCarthy was noncommittal on quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ availability this week, but the Green Bay Packers coach said he would closely watch Monday night’s game between the Atlanta Falcons and Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Those two items probably aren’t mutually exclusive. The Packers’ postseason eligibility hinged on Monday’s result. A Falcons win would officially eliminate the Packers from playoff contention. A Buccaneers upset would have kept their hopes alive, albeit by the slimmest of margins.
The Packers' hopes were extinguished with the Falcons' 24-21 victory Monday.
With the Packers (7-7) officially out of it, it’s hard to imagine they’d be inclined to play Rodgers in a meaningless game Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings. McCarthy seemed to leave open the possibility Rodgers would be inactive Saturday.
“Aaron Rodgers is sore, rightfully so,” McCarthy said Monday when asked whether Rodgers will play this week. “He was hit too many times, took two big hits. So we’re working through that.
“So we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
Rodgers was hit seven times as a passer against the Carolina Panthers, including three sacks. He also rushed six times for 43 yards. His scrambling ability was effective, but probably not what the Packers preferred to see in his first game back from a two-month absence with a broken right collarbone.
“They played us extremely aggressive,” McCarthy said. “As aggressive as anybody played us all year.”
Rodgers showed rust in his first game back. He had three interceptions in a game for the first time since November of the 2009 season against the Bucs. Each of the three picks were on underthrown passes.
McCarthy said it was surprising to see the interceptions.
“Those were all throws he’s made throughout his career,” McCarthy said. “I think it was just a product of not playing for as long as he has, because he’s made those throws. Those are routine throws for him.”
Outside the interceptions, McCarthy said Rodgers did “a lot of good things” in Carolina. He finished 26-of-45 for 290 yards and three touchdowns to match the picks. In theory, he’ll be even better this week with some of that rust knocked off.
That is, if he gets the chance to play.
“Obviously there was extra energy in our locker room with Aaron playing,” McCarthy said. “I wish that energy would have been consistent throughout our team for the whole time. That’s a disappointment. But at the end of the day, these guys compete.”
Learning curve: An intense spotlight hovered over right tackle Jason Spriggs in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s game against the Panthers — and not for the right reasons.
Spriggs allowed two sacks in the span of 12 plays during a lengthy Packers’ drive that ended with a failed fourth-down attempt.
First he was blown away by defensive end Wes Horton on the same move that gave him fits in the exhibition season — a lunge downfield followed by a quick cutback to the inside — resulting in a loss of 7 yards.
Then, on fourth and 14, former Packers linebacker Julius Peppers turned the corner on Spriggs to sack Rodgers along with fellow defensive end Mario Addison.
“The fourth-and-long sack that he gave up, he set the wrong way,” McCarthy said. “He made a young man’s mistake. He wanted to be aggressive with a flat set. He’s supposed to vertical set because the help’s coming to him from the O-line. He had a handful of plays that he’ll improve from.
“Other than that, I thought he improved. That was probably his biggest challenge, not only to play against Julius but they have a really healthy rotation of defensive ends in their defense. But, yes, we’re cognizant of where the matchups are and where the stress points are, so we’ll improve.”