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GREEN BAY, Wis. — If Aaron Rodgers plays Saturday against the Minnesota Vikings — and that remains an if — coach Mike McCarthy doesn’t want his quarterback to take the kind of punishment he did in his return from his collarbone injury on Sunday.

Rodgers was sacked three times and took seven hits from the Carolina Panthers during his first game in two months.

“Aaron Rodgers is sore — rightfully so,” McCarthy said Monday evening. “He was hit too many times, took two big hits. So we’re working through that. So we’ll see what tomorrow brings.”
By then, the Packers (7-7) will know if they have any chance at the postseason. Their streak of eight straight playoff appearances will end if the Atlanta Falcons beat the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday Night Football.

McCarthy wouldn’t say if that would impact his decision to play Rodgers in either of the final two games.

“Well, we’re obviously watching the game tonight,” McCarthy said. “It impacts our opportunity to move forward, so you’re definitely aware of it. We treated today as a Tuesday with the coaching staff, no different for our players. They were all in here pretty much getting treatment and going through the weight room and strength and conditioning. We’re going to start having a little lighter start tomorrow, and we’re on a six-day week. But our preparation is getting ready to beat Minnesota. That’s our focus.”

Rodgers threw three touchdown passes in Sunday’s 31-24 loss but also had his first three-interception game since 2009. He completed 26 of 45 passes in his first game since Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr hit him and broke his right clavicle. Rodgers underwent surgery and was brought back off injured reserve at the earliest possible mark last week.

Rodgers said after the game that he was “disappointed in my performance … I obviously didn’t play very well.”
McCarthy wasn’t nearly as critical.

“I thought [he] did a lot of good things,” McCarthy said. “I think when you see him come back and not playing for two months, there’s so many things he makes look easy. For the most part, a number of throws, the plays he made with his feet, the awareness of plays, handling short-yardage situations, fourth-and-1, just a lot of critical decisions that he made in the game. We obviously did a lot more at the line of scrimmage with run-pass calls.

“They played us extremely aggressive — as aggressive as anybody played us all year. Handling that challenge. … If you go through it and you look at the three interceptions, two of them were like long punts. Those were all throws he’s made throughout his career. I think it was just a product of not playing for as long as he has because he’s made those throws. Those are routine throws for him. I thought he did a lot of really good things.”

The Packers re-signed backup quarterback Joe Callahan on Monday, which could be an indication that they will play Brett Hundley the rest of the way if they are eliminated from the postseason.

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HOUSTON — After rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson tore his ACL last week, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien and general manager Rick Smith discussed adding free-agent quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

“We talk about the roster and what’s out there every day, Rick [Smith] and I,” O’Brien said.

When asked specifically about whether Kaepernick was discussed, O’Brien said, “Oh yeah, I mean everybody gets discussed.”

Last month, Kaepernick filed a grievance against the NFL for collusion, which said the NFL and its owners “have colluded to deprive Mr. Kaepernick of employment rights in retaliation for Mr. Kaepernick’s leadership and advocacy for equality and social justice and his bringing awareness to peculiar institutions still undermining racial equality in the United States.”

Kaepernick’s protest began before a preseason game in 2016, when he did not stand during the national anthem, which has led other NFL players to follow in protest of racial inequality and police brutality.

On Nov. 10, ESPN The Magazine reported that Texans owner Bob McNair commented during an October owners meeting that “we can’t have the inmates running the prison.” McNair’s comments angered Texans players, and left tackle Duane Brown, who has since been traded, was vocal on the subject. The following Sunday against the Seahawks, the majority of Texans players took a knee during the national anthem. On Sunday, every Texans player appeared to stand during the anthem.

When asked if Texans ownership would sign Kaepernick if O’Brien wanted him, the head coach did not answer the question but said that Kaepernick is “a good football player.”

“I’ve studied him from when he was coming out of college,” O’Brien said. “When we scrimmaged against them and then obviously when he was in professional football when we scrimmaged against them last year when we went out to San Fran.

“Again, these things are discussed basically daily, and it’s not just one guy. Colin Kaepernick’s a good football player [but he] hasn’t played football in a while. But these things are discussed daily and they’ll continue to be discussed.”

Texans quarterback Tom Savage started in Sunday’s 20-14 loss to the Colts and was 19-of-44 for 219 yards and a touchdown. Most of those yards came on the final two drives after the Texans’ offense did not score a point until there were 6 minutes, 11 seconds remaining in the game.

O’Brien said as of now, he expects Savage to start on Sunday against the Rams.

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PITTSBURGH — The Martavis Bryant saga took another turn Monday when the talented but disgruntled receiver didn’t show up for Steelers meetings because of an illness.

Thomas Santanello, Bryant’s agent, said Bryant went to see a doctor Monday morning. Bryant was not in the Steelers facility, and his locker chair was folded during the media’s 45-minute window of open access Monday afternoon.

This is not the first time Bryant missed a workday with an illness. He did not participate in a Saturday walk-through before the Week 5 matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars, and he missed two practice days with an illness in Week 4, too.
Bryant refueled his trade request late Sunday night with comments on Instagram, and a source close to Bryant affirmed that the receiver “wants out, point-blank.”

Bryant, who had one catch for 3 yards in a 29-14 win over Cincinnati Bengals, responded to a fan’s Instagram comment that rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster was better than him.

Martavis Bryant also missed time earlier this season because of illness.

Martavis Bryant also missed time earlier this season because of illness.

“JuJu is no where near better than me, fool,” Bryant commented. “All they need to do is give me what I want and y’all can have JuJu and whoever else.”

Bryant then clarified those remarks with a new comment that tagged Smith-Schuster, the rookie who caught a 31-yard touchdown Sunday and has cut into Bryant’s playing time. Bryant called Smith-Schuster “the future” but adds, “I just want mines, period, point-blank,” citing his hard work coming back from 2016 suspension for multiple drug violations.

One team source said Bryant clearly was frustrated on the field Sunday and wasn’t really into the game late. Sources have maintained the Steelers do not intend to trade Bryant. He has worked hard in recent practices and hasn’t been a problem in that area. In fact, Bryant thought he would be central to the Week 7 game plan based on the week of practices.

Smith-Schuster said he has been in contact with Bryant and the two are in a “good place.” Smith-Schuster understands what Bryant is going through as a receiver who wants more targets.

“There’s only one ball. We have so many athletes on the field. It’s tough,” Smith-Schuster said. “At the end of the day, we have to do what’s best for our team…Hopefully we do get him the ball more. He’s a great player, great athlete. I would like him to be on our team. Moving forward, I think he’s going to be big for us.”

On Monday, after a second straight win, the Steelers were left to answer questions about Bryant for the absent player.

“Everyone here is grown. We’re all going to have different thoughts and opinions,” linebacker Bud Dupree said. “He’s going to handle it on his own. We’re here so we’re still friends.”