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Green Bay, Wis. — The Packers stayed afloat in the postseason race while hoping for nearly two months Aaron Rodgers would return.

News that the two-time NFL MVP was cleared medically to return from a collarbone injury finally arrived Tuesday night, coming a bit later than coach Mike McCarthy hoped — but well worth the wait for the playoff-hopeful Packers.

Rodgers is in line to start this weekend against the Panthers.

“Next step is preparing to play this week,” McCarthy said before practice Wednesday.

It’s back to a normal week of preparation for Rodgers after making what McCarthy had considered great progress from right collarbone surgery. He was hurt against Minnesota on Oct. 15 and had the procedure four days later.

“It’s been a long road … but I’m happy to say I’ve been medically cleared to return,” Rodgers wrote on Instagram Tuesday night. “Thanks for all the love, support, prayers and well wishes over the past 8 weeks and a big thank you to Dr. (Pat) McKenzie and our incredible training staff.”

The Packers (7-6) went 3-4 with backup Brett Hundley starting to stay in the playoff race, including a 27-21 victory in overtime last week over Cleveland. They are one of four teams with at least seven wins chasing Atlanta for the second wild-card berth in the NFC.

Rodgers is eligible to be activated Friday, eight weeks after initially going on injured reserve. But the preparation has already started. McCarthy said there would be extra individual work in practice.

Rodgers, though, has looked good throwing the ball in brief periods when he has been before cameras, including pregame in Pittsburgh before the 31-28 loss to the Steelers on Nov. 26.

He returned to practice on what McCarthy called a “trial return” on Dec. 2, and led the scout team last week. The collarbone was scanned on Monday to determine he was ready to return.

The Packers are known for their conservative approach in dealing with injuries. Rodgers is known for his competitiveness.

“They laid out the gantlet of what needed to be done, he ran through it,” McCarthy said of the medical staff’s evaluation of Rodgers.

“You have to trust the people, the expertise, the care and we all understand the importance of every play coming back in this situation, especially Aaron’s specific injury. … We went through that process and this is where we are today.”

It did make for a late Tuesday night of preparation for the coaching staff before McCarthy was finally able to return home.

“I have Elf on the Shelf responsibilities and I didn’t get to it (until) midnight last night,” the coach joked.

Extra points

An NFL spokesman says Commissioner Roger Goodell views the agreement reached on an extension last week as his final contract overseeing the league.

Spokesman Joe Lockhart said at the owners meetings Goodell “has been clear that he views this as his last contract” and that it will allow him to “deal with some of the important issues that we know are on the horizon.”

Those issues include a labor deal, with the current collective bargaining agreement expiring in 2021, and TV contracts. Goodell’s contract runs through 2024.

... Pete Brown, who helped form the Bengals franchise and served in the team’s personnel department, has died at the age of 74.

Pete Brown was the son of Paul Brown and the younger brother of Mike Brown.

... Washington shut down Jordan Reed, putting the tight end on season-ending injured reserve.

Reed has missed the past six games with a strained right hamstring.

Washington also put running back Byron Marshall (hamstring) and linebacker Chris Carter (broken fibula) on IR.

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