GREEN BAY, Wis. — Don’t tell Green Bay Packers coach Matt LaFleur that Sunday’s regular-season finale at the Detroit Lions is a meaningless game even though his team wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs last week.
His decision to play quarterback Aaron Rodgers confirms as much.
While it’s not a given that Rodgers will play the entire game, LaFleur said Friday that he sees no reason why his plan to start the 38-year-old quarterback would change before kickoff at 1 p.m. ET.
“I don’t think he necessarily needs to play,” LaFleur said Friday. “I think he’s proven that throughout the course of the season in terms of the lack of practice that he’s had and still going out there and playing at an MVP level, so I don’t think he necessarily needs to play. I think he wants to play. I think he wants to keep the momentum going.”
Rodgers practiced twice this week — the first time he’s worked more than one day in a practice week since he fractured his left pinky toe in early November.
“Obviously there’s risk every time you step onto the field, whether it’s a game field or a practice field in everything you do,” LaFleur said. “So we just want to make sure were smart, but … I can’t think of anything that would take him off of the field right now unless he came to me with some concerns.”
Rodgers also could be in line to earn $100,000 in contract incentives in each of five categories by finishing in the top three in the league. That includes touchdown passes (he’s tied for third with 35) and completion percentages (fourth at 68.6%). He ranks first in the league in passer rating and interception percentage.
The Packers will have a bye next week and host an NFC Divisional playoff game on Jan. 22 or 23. LaFleur said several times over the last week that he felt sitting key, healthy players in the finale would mean too much time away from game action.
“It’s important to keep the momentum going,” LaFleur said. “Every time we step out on that field, whether it is a preseason game or in your eyes a non-meaningful game, our guys go out there with that mentality that we want to win, and we’re going to do everything in our power to win and we’re going to compete at the highest level.”
Rodgers has said all week that he wants to play.
“It’s more just keeping the momentum going and the desire to be out there with the guys competing,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “I know there’s possible players who could return this week – I don’t know what their status is going to be – but that’s exciting, for sure. If guys are healthy, guys want to play. There’s risk every time you take the field. There’s obviously the idea about rust compared to momentum but, yeah, I want to be out there and be with my guys. I’m assuming that’s still the plan.”
Bakhtiari has not played in more than a year and if he’s going to be available for the playoffs, the Packers would prefer to get him some work on Sunday. He tore the ACL in left knee on Dec. 31, 2021. He practiced twice this week, including as a full participant on Friday.
“Here’s a guy who hasn’t played in over a year,” LaFleur said. “Would we love to see him out there? Absolutely. But I want to make sure and we want to make sure that he’s in the right mindset first and foremost but also that he can protect himself and he’s fully functional. He’s coming off a big injury. We just want to make sure everything’s 100% or as close as it can be to 100% before we put him out there.”
Myers has not played since he sustained a knee injury in Week 6 and subsequently underwent surgery.
Receiver Randall Cobb, who underwent core muscle surgery in late November, will not return Sunday in order to “give him two more weeks to amp that up and let him go in the playoffs,” LaFleur said.
Cornerback Jaire Alexander, who hasn’t played since Week 4 because of a shoulder injury, returned from the COVID list on Friday but will not make his game return on Sunday because LaFleur said, “Just only having the one day this week, I don’t want to put him out there.”