Fine line between playing to win, protecting Rodgers

Ryan Wood
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Inside Lambeau Field, the calf watch went through its final stages Friday.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (12) gives a thumbs-up to the crowd after the Packers scored against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the fourth quarter during the Week 16 game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers will play Sunday, listed as probable in the NFC divisional playoff round against Dallas. His strained, left calf will not be healthy. These tidbits have been known for more than a week.

What Rodgers and the Packers continue to figure out is how he can play without further injuring his calf. Rodgers is known for his competitiveness as much as his ability to extend plays and rifle passes deep downfield.

How does the quarterback prevent adrenaline from getting the best of him?

"You try not to say anything to a guy that has that kind of talent, you know," fullback John Kuhn said Friday. "You let him do what he's been doing for years. That's going out there, that's battling, that's playing the position that he does.

"The rest of us, we can pick our game up a little bit, we can have a little more awareness of pass protection, and run the ball really well. That will be a key."

Specifically, Rodgers' ability to stay healthy will be key Sunday. Backup quarterback Matt Flynn led Green Bay to a remarkable comeback victory last season in Dallas, but nobody wants to see what a playoff game looks like without Rodgers behind center.

Rodgers said earlier this week he isn't thinking about the risk of further injuring his calf. It's outside his control, he said. Still, the risk exists.

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers' calf won't change his team's game plan. McCarthy now has managed two games around Rodgers' injury, experience that should help him Sunday.

As a play caller, McCarthy knows there's a fine line between protecting Rodgers and allowing the MVP play his game.

"I think the fact he went through the opportunity (in) Tampa, Detroit, where he had to play through the situation where you had to be smart in the pocket, he has that experience," McCarthy said. "It's been talked about. We have a game plan. He looks like he's moving fine to me right now. We're not going to change anything or our approach of how we want to attack Dallas' defense."

Linebacker A.J. Hawk, one of Rodgers' closest friends on the team, smiled when asked if the quarterback needed to be protected from himself.

Earlier this week, Rodgers said his calf strain against the Lions happened because he put too much pressure on his leg as he scrambled from the pocket. For a player with an unlimited resource of talent, it can be difficult to recognize limitations.

"A competitor like him," Hawk said, "that ultra-competitor, you do have to protect them from themselves sometimes."

Similar to Rodgers, right guard T.J. Lang said he won't think about the chances of his quarterback further injuring himself.

When Rodgers re-entered the Packers' finale against the Lions, he helped guide a tied game into a 30-20 win. It was no coincidence. Lang knows how important it is for Rodgers to stay as healthy as possible Sunday. He trusts the quarterback will take care of himself.

"He's a grown man. He can make his own decisions," Lang said. "Obviously, I don't think anybody really knows what's going to bother him on game day. He's just going to have to figure that out. It's going to be hard to stop him from doing the things he's good at. It'll be his decision on how he wants to move around and scramble, if he chooses to do so.

"Hopefully he makes the decision that's in his best interest keeping him safe."

-- and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood

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