Falcons’ victory on ‘MNF’ means Packers eliminated from playoff race

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Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers (12) huddles with head coach Mike McCarthy during the second half of an NFL football game against the Carolina Panthers in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Dec. 10, 2017. The Panthers won 31-24. (AP Photo/Bob Leverone) ORG XMIT: OTKBL130

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy left the door open for quarterback Aaron Rodgers to play against the Minnesota Vikings this weekend.

“Aaron Rodgers is sore, rightfully so,” McCarthy said Monday night, one day after Rodgers’ return from a fractured right collarbone wasn’t enough in the Packers’ 31-24 loss to the Carolina Panthers. “He was hit too many times, took two big hits. So we’re working through that. So we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”

Of course, McCarthy made the comments before the Atlanta Falcons beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to eliminate the Packers from playoff contention and mark the end of the team’s eight-year run of consecutive postseason berths.

Despite the return of Rodgers, who broke his collarbone Oct. 15 at Minnesota and missed the next seven games, the Packers put their streak in jeopardy by losing to the Panthers when a late rally fell short. After throwing three interceptions while looking rusty earlier in the game, Rodgers threw a 24-yard touchdown pass to tight end Richard Rodgers with 2:43 left in the game. The Packers then recovered the onside kick and were in position to force overtime when wide receiver Geronimo Allison fumbled at the Carolina 28-yard line with 1:50 to go.

“I’m disappointed like every man on the sideline is. It was an opportunity,” McCarthy said. “Obviously there was extra energy in our locker room with Aaron playing. I wish that energy would have been consistent throughout our team for the whole time. That’s a disappointment.”

Rodgers worked hard to convince the team’s brain trust and medical staff to allow him to play against the Panthers, and he admitted afterward that he did not play well, completing 26 of 45 passes for 290 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions (71.5 passer rating). He also ran six times for 43 yards, although he took harder hits in the pocket than he did when he scrambled.

What McCarthy and the medical staff must now weigh is whether Rodgers should play. After the game against the Panthers, Rodgers hinted that he wanted to play Saturday against the team that derailed his season, regardless of the playoff picture, saying, “I’m a competitor. Until they tell me otherwise, I’m expecting to play.”

The Vikings were preparing for him.

“I feel like he’s going to play like he’s got something to prove,” nose tackle Linval Joseph said, “and I kind of want him to play because it’d be more of a challenge.”

McCarthy, meanwhile, railed against veteran Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis’ blindside, helmet-to-helmet block on wide receiver Davante Adams, who was in the league’s concussion protocol Monday but lashed out at Davis on Twitter earlier in the day. The NFL suspended Davis for two games for the hit as a “repeat offender,” but McCarthy remained livid that Adams was injured on what he called a “dirty” hit.

“There’s no place in this game for those types of hits. That’s been made loud and clear,” McCarthy said. “That hit was totally unnecessary yesterday. As far as any type of rule changes, what they want to add, that’s obviously for future discussion. The player has been suspended, whatever you think about that. But Davante was in a position that he shouldn’t have been hit like that, and that was clear.

“I like (Panthers coach) Ron Rivera. I’ve always respected the play style of his football team. But that hit was a dirty hit.”

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