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Rodgers' return spurred Packers' playoff run

When Aaron Rodgers suffered a concussion and had to miss most of two games in December, it looked as if the Packers' playoff hopes had been knocked for a loop. They had survived injuries at running back, tight end and on defense and gotten by without several star players, but in those two games without Rodgers, they lost and were on the brink of elimination with two games to play.

What happened• Well, Rodgers came back playing better than he ever has, and now the Packers are in the NFC Championship Game against the Bears this afternoon. The winner will advance to the Super Bowl and face either the Steelers or Jets.

For Rodgers, sitting out those two games — he was injured early in the game against the Lions at Detroit and sat out the following game at New England — was hard to take. But it is part of what has driven him and the rest of the team to where they are now.

He said the most difficult days were the Wednesday and Thursday while prepping for New England when he wasn't even allowed to stay at the team facility.

"I came in and they sent me home," Rodgers said this week. "I've never been sent home from work before. I've been sent home from school before, and that's a lot of fun, but you get sent home from work, it's tough. ... I think I just had a renewed energy when I came back the next week just to enjoy it that much more and realizing that a lot of times, the practice kind of goes by my energy and my enthusiasm."

In the four games since he returned, Rodgers has been remarkable. He's completed 93 of 128 passes (72.7 percent) for 1,179 yards, 11 touchdowns and only one interception. And in two playoff games, he has joined the big names in the penthouse.

A win today would certainly impress the co-op board that decides who gets the key to that level.

"I think he's definitely the quarterback we all hoped he would become," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of Rodgers' recent play. "He's in a great rhythm right now. He's playing his best football of his career at this point, and that's what you want, especially this time of year. He's definitely a big-time quarterback. He's everything we hoped he'd be."

Just how effective has Rodgers been in the last two weeks• Consider this stat: In the red zone during the playoffs, Rodgers is 12 for 12 for 102 yards and six touchdowns. He has a 134.5 passer rating in this postseason.

"The way I prepare, the time I put in, I expect to play well, and that doesn't always happen, obviously," Rodgers said. "Sometimes I make poor decisions, throw the ball not as well as I want to, defense out-schemes us or makes plays out there. But the last couple weeks, I've played the kind of football I think you need to play to win playoffs."

Maybe that knock to the head against the Lions was more of a blessing than anyone realized at the time.

"I just wanted to make sure that I brought everything to the table and didn't take it for granted," Rodgers said of his mentality after coming back from the injury. "It was tough to miss a game. When you go from being a backup for three years to the starter, you just relish those opportunities. And when it gets taken away from you, it's just really tough to not be able to get back in the game."

Rodgers is back in the game now.

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