AARON RODGERS has been cleared to return from a left collarbone injury, just in time to start Sunday for the Packers against the Chicago Bears in a game to decide the NFC North title.
With no advance warning and little fanfare, the franchise quarterback received the long-awaited good news at the same time as the rest of his teammates yesterday morning.
"This is a fun day for me, but I think the focus needs to be on this game and the opportunity we have to win the division," Rodgers said.
Green Bay (7-7-1) is 2-5-1 since Rodgers went down during the first series of a 27-20 loss Nov. 4 to Chicago. The Packers have managed to hang on, with a shot to win a third straight division title with a win Sunday at Soldier Field. Win and Green Bay returns to Lambeau Field the following weekend to host a wild-card team in the first round of the playoffs.
"We're in it. You know we have a chance against our rivals, and what a better way than to go down there and get some redemption and host a home playoff game," Rodgers said.
Flynn before falling, 38-31, last week to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Losses by Chicago and the Detroit Lions set up the winner-take-all finale Sunday with the Bears for the division.
Rodgers' impending return wasn't the only good injury news yesterday in Titletown.
Rookie running back Eddie Lacy was held out of practice with a lingering ankle injury, though McCarthy expects his 1,100-yard rusher to play Sunday. And playmaking receiver Randall Cobb, out since Week 6 with a leg injury, is moving well in practice and appears to be getting closer to returning.
Rodgers won't be the only quarterback in the spotlight. The Bears' Jay Cutler has an expiring contract, a bad history against Green Bay and at least a few fans in Chicago who would just as soon see Josh McCown starting. Cutler insisted he's not looking for vindication.
"This isn't a personal game for anybody in that locker room," he said. "It's all of us together."
Maybe. But no matter how much Cutler tries to make it about the team, to a large degree this one is still about him.
Even as his fifth season in Chicago winds down, big questions remain about his demeanor, his leadership and his ability to perform in big situations.
The fact that his contract is up just adds another wrinkle to the story.
General manager Phil Emery has expressed his support for Cutler, but exactly how the negotiations play out remains to be seen.
* ACL injuries are down, the NFL has told its Health and Safety Advisory Committee. In a memo to the committee sent earlier this week, the league said research showed there were 30 anterior cruciate ligament injuries in games through the preseason and first 13 weeks of the schedule. There were 39 such injuries in 2012, 35 in 2011, 37 in 2010, and 31 in 2009. ACL problems are the most severe knee injuries. There was an increase in medial collateral ligament injuries, from 74 in 2012 to 89 in games this season through 13 weeks. But there were 106 MCL injuries in 2011, 89 in 2010 and 103 in 2009.
* Buffalo rookie receiver Robert Woods said he has been fined $15,000 by the NFL for punching Miami safety Reshad Jones. Woods was unhappy with how Jones threw him into a pile of players following the whistle.
Bills coach Doug Marrone has yet to determine whether rookie quarterback EJ Manuel (knee) will be ready to start Sunday at New England.
* Former Pittsburgh Pro Bowl linebacker Mike Merriweather filed a federal lawsuit claiming he was fired from his promotions job with a western Pennsylvania casino because of perceptions about his race. Merriweather, 53, contends the casino's white management made disparaging remarks, sometimes in jest, about him being potentially violent because he's black. He's now the athletic director at a Christian high school near his home in Stockton, Calif.