Aaron Rodgers is not the ideal patient. He’s smart, he at least thinks he knows what he’s looking at when he examines x-rays and CT scans and MRIs, and by his own admission he’s willing to give his non-expert medical opinion – sometimes when he’s not even asked for it.
But when it comes to the Green Bay Packers quarterback’s relationship with longtime team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie, Rodgers believes there is mutual respect and a healthy back-and-forth between the two men that will decide whether or not Rodgers returns to the field Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers after missing the past six games with the fractured left collarbone he suffered Nov. 4 against Chicago.
Rodgers insisted on his weekly radio show on 540 ESPN and ESPNWisconsin.com on Tuesday that the Packers’ newfound playoff hope – at 7-6-1, they simply need to win their final two games to claim the NFC North title and the playoff berth and first-round home playoff game that would come with it – will not influence the decision on whether he will be cleared to play.
But Rodgers also said that no new scan is scheduled for this week – his last scan was done last Thursday, and on Friday morning he was ruled out of last Sunday’s game at Dallas – and that he does not believe another scan is necessary for him to be cleared to play against the Steelers.
“I think you can probably guess,” Rodgers said when asked what another scan would show. “I have an idea what it's going to look like based on the previous one, the amount of days we have between scans, project that forward to a similar amount of days and have a pretty good idea and avoid over-radiation."
Instead, Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Rodgers will be evaluated on Wednesday morning, and the quarterback expects to spend the week not only practicing and preparing as if he’ll start against the Steelers but also having extensive talks with McKenzie.
Last week, Rodgers, McKenzie and McCarthy met on Friday, and McKenzie informed the player that he would not be given medical clearance to play. Throughout the process, the team has steadfastly said that Rodgers would not play until medically cleared by McKenzie.
However, McCarthy has been intentionally vague about what would be required for that clearance. Would Rodgers’ collarbone have to be 100 percent healed, calcified to its pre-injury form? Or is there a point at which Rodgers could be allowed to play where the bone would be sufficiently, but not completely healed?
According to Rodgers, the decision will be based at least in part on how he feels. The rest, he hopes, is up for discussion.
“I felt good in practice (last week) and a decision was made about my status, collectively, but more on an organizational level -- which I understood. It didn’t mean I was happy about it,” Rodgers said Tuesday. “But, I understood. I've got a lot of respect and trust in Pat McKenzie; I think he does an incredible job for us. But that doesn't mean I'm not going to battle him, though.
“I think the organization has stated that they're going to do what's in my best interest. I know that's how Pat feels. But, I'd like to think that this thing is going to be healed up at some point to get out on the field.”
Asked if he felt he should have been allowed to play after weighing the risk-reward himself, Rodgers replied, “I think the decision last week, based on the evidence that we saw, was definitely in my best interest. And I’ll leave that as my response there.”
The reason Rodgers was so disappointed with the decision last week was that he felt good in practice – a week earlier, Rodgers experienced unexpected pain and thereby knew he wouldn’t be ready to play against Atlanta – and thus felt like he could have played against the Cowboys. He also felt sharp during practice.
If he practices the same way this week, Rodgers would like to have the chance to plead his case to play. And he believes his relationship with McKenzie will allow him to do that.
“I think there has to be on some level the risk-reward conversation. You have to base that off of the evidence you see on the scan, but also how I'm feeling and if I'm able to do normal football movements without pain. That obviously goes into the equation,” Rodgers said. “Now a few weeks ago, that wasn't in the equation because I had pain. Last week, I felt more like myself, I think the guys would say I looked like myself out there and I knew I was closer. It's Tuesday here, I haven't practiced yet this week.
“We'll see how I feel tomorrow. This is maybe not what people want to hear, with it being dragged out, but this is how you have to go about the process. It’s a combination of a lot of things, and obviously there’s strong opinions on what should happen.
“The organization is going to try and do what's best by me. I'm going to try and make it at least a conversation.”
Asked what he expects to happen this week, Rodgers replied, “My hope is that I practice tomorrow and experience no setbacks, mentally or physically, and then we’ll go from there.”
That’s where the conversation will come in between Rodgers and McKenzie. The first time Rodgers was examined by McKenzie was after the Packers drafted him with the 24th overall pick in 2005, and McKenzie operated on him in 2006 when Rodgers broke his foot. They also worked through a 2008 injury to his throwing shoulder, when Rodgers was listed as doubtful for a game against the Falcons but threw inside the Don Hutson Center just hours before kickoff and convinced McKenzie to let him play.
What were your emotions when they told you that you couldn't play?
“I have a ton of respect for Pat. He's done an incredible job for us. I’ve known him for nine years now; he’s done surgery on me before,” Rodgers said. “I trust him and care about him a lot as a friend and also as somebody that counsels me when I’m injured. We’ve always been able to have honest conversations and I respect his honesty. Sometimes those guys (doctors) have to save you from yourself. That being said, I'm a competitor and I wanted to be out there (last week).
“I think he trust me and how I’m feeling and I have to trust him. He knows what he’s doing. He does a great job. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to battle him from time to time, and he knows that.”
Listen to Jason Wilde every weekday from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “Green & Gold Today” on 540 ESPN, and follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/jasonjwilde.