CLEVELAND (AP) Aaron Rodgers stood on the sideline, fighting off the December chill inside a large green Packers jacket and stocking cap.
His game-day look could soon be more familiar.
Relegated to being a cheerleader since breaking his collarbone in October, Rodgers may be back on the field next Sunday for Green Bay, which kept its playoff hopes ticking by rallying to beat the Cleveland Browns 27-21 in overtime.
The Packers (7-6) overcame a 14-point deficit in the fourth quarter and were helped by the always generous Browns (0-13), who found yet another way to lose and are now three defeats from NFL infamy.
Brett Hundley, who had the unenviable job of stepping in as Rodgers’ part-time replacement, threw three touchdown passes, and the Packers forced Browns rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer into a critical mistake in the OT to keep their season relevant.
When Rodgers went down on Oct. 15, slammed to the turf by Minnesota linebacker Anthony Barr, the Packers’ season seemed to be as good as over. But Green Bay managed to go 3-4 without its star QB, winning the past two weeks in OT, and the Packers are now poised to make a postseason push.
”We’re like a zombie, we refuse to go down,” said Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari. ”That’s a nice characteristic you want from a team when physically, the injuries are piling up. I don’t know what percentage we’ve had with back-to-back overtime games and having two walk-offs. It’s definitely a momentum builder.”
The Packers are rolling indeed. Rodgers returned to practice in pads last week, and as long as he clears any medical tests this week, No. 12 is expected to be back behind center next week when the Packers visit Carolina.
Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy ducked any questions about Rodgers’ status, preferring to keep the focus on his team’s gutty comeback and not the return of his two-time MVP.
”We love Aaron Rodgers, but I will not answer any questions about him today,” McCarthy said. ”This is about winning the game. He’s still in the medical situation, and as soon as we have the information, we will try to get it to you.”
After Packers safety Josh Jones intercepted Kizer early in overtime, Hundley connected on a short pass to Davante Adams, who spun out of a tackle and scored Green Bay’s game-winning TD before running into the tunnel and straight to the locker room.
Rodgers wasn’t far behind. In a few days, he may be leading again.
With Rodgers’ guidance, Hundley has bailed out the Packers.
He finished 35 of 46 for 265 yards without an interception and exploited Cleveland’s defense with bubble screens and quick-hitting passes. In regulation and OT, he was a combined 12 of 16.
”It’s just crunch-time situations,” Hundley said. ”Big-time players make big-time plays. My dad used to say that over and over growing up and that’s where it resonates in these kinds of situations with me. It’s still football. You just have to perform.”
Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon celebrated his first touchdown in nearly four years with style.
Gordon hauled in an 18-yard TD with a leaping catch in the first quarter, and then put on a pair of sunglasses when he reached the sideline. It was Gordon’s first TD since Dec. 15, 2013, before he was suspended for multiple drug violations.
Gordon had a 38-yard reception on Cleveland’s first play and finished with three catches for 69 yards. However, he was not available for interviews following the game.
DEAR OL’ DAD
Packers linebacker Clay Matthews made a big play in overtime and then honored his dad.
Matthews got just enough of Kizer’s arm to affect his throw that was picked off by Jones. Following the game, Matthews wore a replica of his father’s No. 57 Browns jersey. The elder Matthews was a star linebacker for Cleveland from 1978-93.
”I got a special place in my heart for Cleveland, no doubt about it,” Matthews said, ”especially with what my father was able to do here.”
Matthews was one of the few Packers to generate any pressure on Kizer. Green Bay played without its sack leader, linebacker Nick Perry, who sat out with shoulder and foot injuries.
NOT SO NIFTY FIFTY
Now three losses from a 0-16 season, the Browns fell to 1-28 under coach Hue Jackson and 4-46 in their last 50 games – the worst stretch in league history.
”I don’t know why things are happening the way they are happening,” said linebacker Christian Kirksey. ”We just have to keep going at it, keep fighting and keep swinging. Last year, we got that one win late so that just shows the character of the guys in this room and it just shows that we can compete with any team.”
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