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Quar­ter­back keeps mov­ing de­spite in­jury

Green Bay — Aaron Rodgers wasn’t ex­pected to run Sun­day. Stand in the pocket and sling mis­siles around Lam­beau Field, sure. The two-time MVP quar­ter­back can do that on one leg. Run­ning wasn’t in the game plan. Rodgers par­tic­i­pated in the Green Bay Pack­ers’ walk through Satur­day just to show he had at least a mod­icum of mo­bil­ity, enough to not get crushed. Coach Mike McCarthy didn’t in­clude a sin­gle quar­ter­back run in the prac­tice. He wanted to limit the con­tact Rodgers ab­sorbed as much as pos­si­ble.

Then the pocket col­lapsed on a thir­dand-7 against Min­nesota, and in­stincts took over. Rodgers pumped once be­fore cross­ing the line of scrimmage, try­ing to buy an ex­tra yard or two. Then he went for it, tuck­ing and run­ning and scaring ev­ery Pack­ers fan un­til div­ing un­der safety Har­ri­son Smith’s tackle.

He crashed at that in­vis­i­ble, yel­low line in­di­cat­ing the first-down marker, get­ting ex­actly enough yards to ex­tend the drive. It ended with a touch­down, giv­ing the Pack­ers a lead they held un­til the game’s fi­nal minute.

“He kind of showed ev­ery­one he’s not crip­pled when he ran for that first down,” left guard Lane Tay­lor said. “So that was kind of good for, I think, kind of ev­ery­one to see that he’s not hob­bling out there on one leg.”

No, Rodgers cer­tainly wasn’t hob­bling around on one leg. The Pack­ers couldn’t have hoped for more mo­bil­ity from their quar­ter­back. Rodgers had said he sim­ply wanted to move around in a small cir­cle, ne­go­ti­at­ing the pocket. He did much more than that. “I was def­i­nitely sur­prised,” McCarthy said, “to see him move the way he did.”

By now, it’s clear Rodgers’ in­jury isn’t go­ing away any­time soon. A sprained knee needs time and rest to heal, and the reg­u­lar sea­son af­fords nei­ther. The Pack­ers will com­pen­sate by scal­ing back their of­fense. Rodgers took all the snaps from the shot­gun or pis­tol Sun­day. He won’t be un­der cen­ter any­time soon.

Each piece of the game plan will be im­ple­mented with Rodgers’ preser­va­tion in mind. Just be­cause he could nav­i­gate the field Sun­day doesn’t mean he’ll stay that way. The 34-year-old quar­ter­back is one hard or awk­ward hit from see­ing his mo­bil­ity regress.

“I’m tak­ing a lot of risk at my age,” Rodgers said, “ev­ery sin­gle time I step on the field. But there’s no greater feel­ing than be­ing out there with those guys. So that kind of trumps ev­ery­thing. As long as I can move in a cir­cle, and (Sun­day) I ac­tu­ally moved a lit­tle bet­ter.”

Even Rodgers was sur­prised how good his knee felt. By the fourth quar­ter, he let McCarthy know it was strong enough to call some boot­leg passes. Early in the week, the ex­pec­ta­tion was Rodgers would have to stay inside the pocket.

No mat­ter how lim­ited the Pack­ers must make their play­book, it’s cer­tainly bet­ter than not hav­ing Rodgers at all. Rodgers’ mo­bil­ity was most im­pres­sive on his third-and-7 scram­ble, but there were other sub­tle move­ments that were ev­ery bit as im­por­tant.

On the same drive as his 7-yard run, Rodgers flushed the pocket left be­fore find­ing tight end Jimmy Graham for 8 yards. Three plays later, Rodgers ini­tially found no­body open. He dropped back 2 yards deeper, buy­ing time. As left tackle David Bakhtiari guided a rusher wide, Rodgers hopped twice to the left and fi­nally found re­ceiver Da­vante Adams for 13 yards.

Those are the plays — the move­ments in a cir­cle — Rodgers must do to be ef­fec­tive. If he can con­tinue to es­cape the rush, the Pack­ers’ of­fense should be func­tional.

“Aaron’s go­ing to be Aaron no mat­ter what,” Tay­lor said. “He can be out there with half a col­lar­bone or one knee or what­not. He’s go­ing to be mo­bile, he’s go­ing to move. He’s go­ing to play his game.

“You know he’s lay­ing it on the line. I don’t ex­pect any less. He’s out there, he’s go­ing to com­pete. He’s a war­rior. He’s proven it on mul­ti­ple oc­ca­sions that he’s go­ing to give you ev­ery­thing he can.”

GETTY IM­AGES

Aaron Rodgers rolls out to pass dur­ing the third quar­ter. Though in­jured, Rodgers showed he could move in and and out of the pocket on Sun­day.

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