Charles Woodson has been cleared to play again, and the Green Bay Packers are counting on the defensive back to provide a lift in Saturday night's playoff game against the Minnesota Vikings.
Woodson deferred to team physician Dr. Pat McKenzie and gave his broken collarbone as much time to heal as possible, sitting out Sunday's regular-season finale at Minnesota. He was injured on Oct. 21 and has missed nine consecutive games.
But now that the Packers are in win-or-go-home mode, Woodson is back.
"Charles has been a stud in this league for 15 years, so whenever he's on the field with us, he's always a huge threat," inside linebacker A.J. Hawk said after practice Tuesday evening. "Not only is he a threat to make huge plays throughout the game, but quarterbacks, I think they know where he's at every single play. He seems to know what receivers are running before they do. And I think he has an intimidation factor as well.
"Every team we play has to respect him."
Playing without Woodson each time, Green Bay split its two regular-season games against Minnesota. But Vikings star Adrian Peterson had two strong performances against the Packers, rushing for 210 yards in Green Bay's 23-14 victory on Dec. 2 and gaining 199 yards on the ground in Minnesota's 37-34 win on Sunday at the Metrodome.
"I just think having Charles Woodson back on the field helps our football team," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said in announcing that Woodson had been cleared. "I mean, just what he's meant to our defense, his playmaking ability, his ability to make plays at the line of scrimmage. He's extremely productive, so I'm just glad to have him back on the field."
The 36-year-old Woodson was not in the Packers' locker room during the media access period on Tuesday night. But when he last spoke at length with reporters on Dec. 21, he acknowledged that he hasn't always agreed with McKenzie or McCarthy's recommendations. But if waiting allows him to make it through an entire playoff run - right through Super Bowl XLVII - without reinjuring his collarbone, he will be grateful, he said.
Before his injury at St. Louis, Woodson was playing strong safety in the Packers' base defense, then playing the nickel and dime slot positions in sub packages. After he went down, M.D. Jennings was his primary replacement at safety in the base defense, while rookies Casey Hayward (nickel) and Jerron McMillian (dime) covered opposing slot receivers.
It's unclear where Woodson will line up this weekend, but his defensive teammates believe he'll help against Peterson and Christian Ponder, who completed 16 of 28 passes for 234 yards and three touchdowns on Sunday.
"(Woodson) helps us in every aspect of the game, just his experience," cornerback Tramon Williams said. "No doubt about it, obviously he's a great player from the start, but with that experience, we know he's going to be in the position he's supposed to be in, we know he's going to be looking to make a play. You can be aggressive yourself because you know you have a guy back there you can trust."
Williams said Woodson also makes a difference because, while some of the team's young players have done well in his absence, his knowledge of the game allows him to do things that younger players aren't able to do, aren't comfortable doing or can't do as well as he does them.
"This defense is based off disguising and things like that, so Charles has been so experienced so he knows how long to hold a disguise, and he's not scared to do it," Williams said. "It's definitely going to help us in the long run."