Tuesday, January 12, 2010
By COLIN FLY AP Sports Writer
January 8, 2010
GREEN BAY, Wis. - Aaron Rodgers spends a lot less time in the training room these days.
Right tackle Mark Tauscher's commitment to come back from a major knee injury is a big reason why.
The 10-year veteran returned from a torn left knee ligament for the second time in his career and was back on the field at midseason -- after Rodgers had been sacked 41 times in the first nine games.
The Pro Bowl quarterback has been sacked only nine times since and while Tauscher isn't the only reason Rodgers has stayed upright more often, he's helped stabilize an offensive line that had its share of issues this year.
Tauscher could've retired after his injury in December 2008 to cap a successful career with postseason appearances in five different years after being a seventh-round pick in 2000. He instead will be starting Sunday when the Packers face Arizona in a first-round playoff game.
"You put everything into perspective and when you're out of it and you're not on a team, it's the first time I hadn't been on a team in nine years," Tauscher said. "When you're coming back into it and now you get on a roll and things are really kind of going as they're supposed to go, it's a lot of fun."
It's been a lot of fun for the entire line after nine weeks of mismatches and misery. Tauscher quickly deflects any credit for the turnaround, but coach Mike McCarthy and offensive coordinator Joe Philbin have praised his return.
"Just his veteran presence, he's a steady individual, well-respected individual, and he brings a consistency to your locker room, and also it carries over to your offensive line," McCarthy said. "He deserves a lot of credit for us bouncing back from our earlier days."
Those days had Rodgers going to the trainers often, including when he was sacked eight times in a loss to the Vikings as Green Bay stumbled to a 4-4 start.
"I spent a lot of time in the training room really Weeks 1 through 9," Rodgers said. "As much as I love those guys and those guys do a great job, it's nice to not have to see them as much on Mondays and Tuesdays. My body feels great."
The offense is also clicking with Rodgers throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 30 touchdowns, receivers Donald Driver and Greg Jennings adding more than 1,000 yards receiving each, and Ryan Grant running for over 1,200 yards.
Grant's numbers have gone up since Tauscher's return, too. He averaged 4.9 yards after starting the season with a 4.2 mark and has seven of his 11 touchdowns in the last seven games.
"We've been able to be on the same page, the communication level's high and we're really clicking," Grant said of the line. "They've done a phenomenal job and we're really starting to roll and become balanced."
Tauscher, who signed with Green Bay in October after also working out with Kansas City, said he was just glad to come and play, even after he missed a week when he took a shot on the knee and sprained a different ligament on Nov. 8.
"I knew it wasn't bad, but I also knew it wasn't great. It was good to get reassured when I got over on the sidelines that it wasn't anything major," Tauscher said. "You just go out and play and it was actually good to know the knee could hold up with that hit."
With that knowledge, Tauscher went back to being the same consistent guy he's always been.
"(It's) a lot of the same old Mark Tauscher, and that's a good thing," Philbin said. "He's been a very dependable, steady player here for a long time, he's been a productive player. He's a guy you can count on, he's extremely professional. You don't worry about very much when he's in the ballgame, and at the end of the day usually his guy isn't around the quarterback a whole lot, and that's a comforting thing as well."
Tauscher said he hasn't decided whether he'll continue his career next season, so he's focused completely on Arizona.
"Just getting back into it and playing was my goal. Now to have a chance to get into these playoffs, that's what we play for," Tauscher said. "I've been fortunate, six out of 10 years, we've been in the mix and we've had some great opportunities. I would say this is a great opportunity now. It's just what we do with the opportunity that we have."