TOM SILVERSTEIN

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Aaron Rodgers, Pack­ers of­fense out of sync in draw

Green Bay — The minute Green Bay Pack­ers coach Mike McCarthy ap­proved the de­ci­sion to play quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers on Sun­day against the Min­nesota Vik­ings, all the caveats that come with play­ing hurt flew up into the beau­ti­ful blue sky above Lam­beau Field.

As soon as McCarthy, the med­i­cal staff and Rodgers him­self de­cided the Pack­ers had a bet­ter chance to beat the Vik­ings with him than with­out him, it didn’t mat­ter whether he was 70 per­cent, 80 per­cent or 99 per­cent.

All un­der­stood that it was his game to win, just like it al­ways is.

Ex­cus­ing Rodgers for fum­bling a keeper in over­time be­cause his knee was sore would be like ex­cus­ing a de­liv­ery truck from mak­ing its rounds be­cause the bumper had a dent in it. Those kinds of af­flic­tions are known to oc­cur when you work in a high-col­li­sion arena and they can be mit­i­gated.

Just as the knee was not the rea­son he dropped the ball on a play in which he es­chewed the hand­off in fa­vor of run­ning around end, it was not re­spon­si­ble for him tak­ing a sack on the fol­low­ing play that made a game-win­ning field goal try im­prac­ti­cal.

As great as Rodgers was a week ago in lead­ing the Pack­ers to a 21-point sec­ond­half rally with the same bum knee, his ef­fort fell short when the game was on the line in a 29-29 tie with the Vik­ings.

“I’m dis­ap­pointed about those last two plays,” Rodgers said. “We fought hard, we had some plays go our way; some plays didn’t.”

Ac­cord­ing to Rodgers, there was never any doubt he was go­ing to play de­spite not prac­tic­ing Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day and spend­ing most of Fri­day re­hab­bing an in­jury that he re­fuses to de­scribe with any more de­tail than “a sprained knee.”

On Satur­day, Rodgers took al­most all of the snaps in the non-con­tact work­out the team holds in the morn­ing, mostly to show to McCarthy and the med­i­cal staff that he could move around with an of­fen­sive line­man-style brace on his left knee.

“(We) re­ally just eval­u­ated him today when he came in,” McCarthy said after the game. “So, he’d been work­ing with the brace and the other com­po­nents and get­ting ready to play through­out the week and as you can see, he went out and played a heck­uva foot­ball game un­der those cir­cum­stances. That was the process.”

From the very start, Rodgers looked far more mo­bile than any­one ex­pected, even tak­ing off on a third-down scram­ble up the mid­dle in which he dove head first for the first down. Though he was forced to take all his snaps from the shot­gun or pis­tol for­ma­tions, he was able to slide around in the pocket and buy him­self time against ar­guably the best de­fense in the NFL.

On the first se­ries, the Vik­ings sacked him and caused a punt and on the sec­ond one, the run­ning game car­ried a big part of the load. On the fi­nal two plays, how­ever, he hit re­ceiver Da­vante Adams for a 13yard gain and a 9-yard touch­down pass that gave the Pack­ers a 14-7 lead.

The rest of the half was a strug­gle as the Vik­ings threw var­i­ous pres­sures and dis­guised cov­er­ages at Rodgers, twice forc­ing the Pack­ers to punt from within their own 20-yard line. Not even the late sec­ondquar­ter scor­ing drive led any­one to be­lieve the of­fense was nearing a break­out.

The long­est gain of the five-play, 43yard drive was a 15-yard rough­ing-the- passer penalty.

“You know I think the of­fense, we’ve got some things go­ing, we got Jimmy (Graham) in­volved a lit­tle bit bet­ter,” Rodgers said. “But we didn’t catch the ball as well as we did last week. I didn’t throw it as well as I did last week in the sec­ond half.

“I’ve said to you guys (re­porters) we’re a work in progress and I thought today we’d take a big­ger step.”

The big­gest prob­lem in the sec­ond half was that Rodgers couldn’t fin­ish off drives. He com­pleted 30 of 42 passes for 281 yards and a touch­down, but kicker Mason Crosby kicked five field goals, and a sixth at­tempt, from 52 yards, went wide left at the end of reg­u­la­tion.

The best chance to put the game away came with 2 min­utes, 4 sec­onds to go in reg­u­la­tion. The de­fense had just come up with an in­ter­cep­tion and the of­fense needed to go just 13 yards to make it a twoscore game and prac­ti­cally en­sure vic­tory.

But to show how much con­fi­dence McCarthy had in Rodgers, rather than call a run­ning play to keep the clock mov­ing and force the Vik­ings to burn one of their two re­main­ing time­outs, he called a roll out for Rodgers on sec­ond and 10. Rodgers got out­side eas­ily but he tried to fit the ball be­tween two de­fend­ers to Da­vante Adams.

The ball got there, but in the process of Adams fall­ing into the end zone, the ball got jarred loose. The Pack­ers thought it was a touch­down and were wait­ing for in­stant re­play to re­view it, but the call never came.

They waited so long, they re­ceived a de­lay of game penalty.

They got the ball back with 31 sec­onds to go and Rodgers got them to the Min­nesota 34 with a 27-yard com­ple­tion to Graham and a 3-yard com­ple­tion to Adams. But Crosby missed and the game went to over­time.

“I had a chance to Da­vante at the end of the sec­ond last drive there of reg­u­la­tion to put the game away, two scores, didn’t get it,” Rodgers said. “And then we put some­thing to­gether there in the last 31 sec­onds to give our­selves (a chance to win).

“So dis­ap­point­ing be­cause we had a lot of chances to win that game.”

The pos­ses­sion in over­time will cause Rodgers a sleep­less night.

On sec­ond and 1 at the Min­nesota 37, the play called for him to hand off to run­ning back Ja­maal Wil­liams to the left. If he saw an open­ing to the right, he could pull it back and keep it.

He chose the lat­ter and when he fin­ished pulling the ball out of Wil­liams’ gut, it slipped out of his hands. He jumped on it on the 40-yard line.

“Ja­maal didn’t know I was pulling it,” Rodgers said. “He was try­ing to grab for it a lit­tle bit. But if I’d just been a lit­tle stronger pulling it, both the end and (safety) Har­ri­son (Smith) were fly­ing over the top.

“It’s sec­ond and a cou­ple, I’m def­i­nitely get­ting a first down and we’re inside 50yard field goal range.”

On the fol­low­ing play the Vik­ings blitzed cor­ner­back MacKen­zie Alexan­der off the left side. Rodgers had a play called to the left in which he could dump it off to re­ceiver Ran­dall Cobb and let him fight for a first down.

He pulled off of Cobb and tried to go for more. Alexan­der sacked him.

Rodgers and the Pack­ers avoided their first loss when Vik­ings kicker Daniel Carl­son missed a 35-yard game-win­ning field goal as time ex­pired.

Rodgers was ad­mit­tedly very sore after the game and didn’t know what his prac­tice sched­ule would be like dur­ing the up­com­ing week, but he said he in­tended to play at Wash­ing­ton. McCarthy will make the fi­nal de­ci­sion. Then it will be in Rodgers’ hands. Just like it was Sun­day.

ADAM WES­LEY/USA TODAY NET­WORK-WIS­CON­SIN

Pack­ers quar­ter­back Aaron Rodgers scram­bles out of the pocket. His mo­bil­ity wasn’t as lim­ited as ex­pected.

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