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Misty-Eyed and Tired, Rodgers Wins in Return From COVID

After missing six days of practice and one game, Packers QB Aaron Rodgers wasn't sharp but he was triumphant and relieved after beating the Seahawks on Sunday.

GREEN BAY, Wis. – Aaron Rodgers’s performance? Forgettable. Aaron Rodgers’s walk off the field? Unforgettable.

Back in the starting lineup after a tumultuous 13 days in which he tested positive for COVID-19, was skewered for his views on the vaccine, sat out last week’s game at Kansas City and returned just in time for Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks, the Green Bay Packers’ star quarterback enjoyed an emotional off Lambeau Field on Sunday evening.

“A lot of emotions, for sure,” he said following a 17-0 victory over the Seahawks. “Good to be back with the guys, good to be back at home, good to be on the field, really. The most emotions from the whole night was probably walking off the field after the game. It definitely got me a little misty. It was good to feel those types of emotions and good to be back with the guys.”

By the numbers, Rodgers had a quality game. He completed 23-of-37 passes (62.2 percent) for 292 yards. However, the Packers went just 2-of-5 in the red zone, with one of those failures a third-quarter interception. And the team couldn’t put away the punchless Seahawks until late in the game.

Still, a win’s a win, and Green Bay (8–2) knocked off Seattle for the 10th consecutive time at Lambeau Field.

It’s the outcome he anticipated when he tested positive for COVID-19. By testing positive for COVID last Wednesday, he knew he’d be able to play on Sunday.

“I did the math and figured, one, I’d have to be healthy, and then, two, it’d be one of those weird weeks where you don’t practice all week and try to go out and play,” Rodgers said. “I’ve done that before. I did that my first year starting against Atlanta [in 2008] when my shoulder was killing me. Didn't practice all week, harnessed it up Sunday morning and was able to get through the game.

“But that’s not obviously the most desirable way to go through a week or preparation. But I stayed ready. I was in all the meetings and in all the conversations. I had great phone calls with the standard nightly calls with [offensive coordinator Nathaniel] Hackett and [quarterbacks coach Luke] Getsy and Matt [LaFleur]. So, I was in the loop the entire time, but I knew it was going to be maybe a little bit different feel early on as I kind of got into the plan and got into the calls.”

With the lack of prep, Rodgers struggled—especially early in the game. On the opening drive, Marquez Valdes-Scantling was open for what could have been a 61-yard touchdown. Instead, the ball was underthrown and Valdes-Scanting gained 41. It was a seven-point mistake because the drive ground to a halt and Mason Crosby missed a 42-yard field goal.

The third drive ended with Rodgers’s deep shot to Allen Lazard being underthrown and broken up. The fourth drive stalled on second- and third-and-goal incompletions; Crosby’s 27-yard field goal made it 3-0. The fifth drive ended with cornerback Tre Brown blasting Lazard to break up a fourth-and-2 pass.

That Rodgers wasn’t sharp shouldn’t come as a great surprise. Last week, he felt COVID symptoms on Tuesday, tested positive, didn’t practice all week and didn’t play at Kansas City. This week, he didn’t practice all week, was cleared to return on Saturday morning and led the walk-through.

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That was it as far as in-person preparation.

“Not ideal for sure, being on Zoom all week,” he said. “The best thing for me to be prepared is to be able to repeat the plays in practice and then the walk-throughs. You’re hearing them two or three or four times and it becomes kind of second nature. You can almost finish the sentence from Matt [LaFleur].”

Of course, Rodgers was impacted physically by missing six practices and one game. He also was impacted mentally. Rodgers usually has wide latitude at the line of scrimmage. The “can” plays—LaFleur calls one play that can be changed to something else—and outright audibles were mostly eliminated. Normally, Rodgers would hate being handcuffed to that extent. This time, he thought the limitations helped him get settled.

“Not ideal for sure,” he said. “It’ll be nice to go through a full week next week.”

Rodgers was fined last week for not being masked for press conferences in the media auditorium. Presumably on Sunday, he was given the choice of speaking in person while masked or talking via Zoom. He chose the latter.

His comments lacked their usual vigor. He spoke for about 19 minutes and didn’t crack a smile until the 18th minute, when he pointed out that “we’re not a defensive football team just yet” even though it was the defense that did the heavy lifting.

“I’m happy. I’m just so tired. It’s been a long, long 10 days,” he said. “I felt great on the field, but it’s been a couple weeks since I’ve been out there playing. So, it was fun to be back out there and I’m excited for our guys, I really am.”

Rodgers looked and sounded like a man ready to move on and return to normalcy. His stance on vaccines came under heavy fire from some fans and most of the blue checkmarks on Twitter. Everyone had a take. NFL legend Terry Bradshaw said Rodgers “lied to everyone.” Basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said Rodgers had “damaged professional sports.” Rodgers’s take even was brought up at a White House press briefing.

“Everybody has an opinion, and I understand that it’s a very polarizing issue for some individuals, but I’m just focusing on the support that I got and it was deep and wide, and greatly appreciated,” Rodgers said. “There’s always going to be criticism in this world. I don’t define myself by the criticism, but I understand it’s a part of this because this issue is definitely polarizing. I’m just so deeply grateful for all the people that reached out.”

On Sunday, he was back with the team and back in familiar surroundings and back to winning football games.. He was thankful for his teammates, coaches and the front office for checking on him while he was away. He walked off the field with Preston Smith, whom Rodgers said checked on him every day for 10 days.

“I just don’t take these things for granted,” Rodgers said. “Walking off the field as a winner. It’s fun beating that squad. We’ve had some battles over the years. Just walking out with Preston, who I have so much love and appreciation for, and then hearing that type of response from the crowd was, it was a little extra special today.”