Aaron Rodgers’ arrival in the MetLife Stadium on Monday night signaled that change and hope were on the way for the New York Jets, but it turns out that this season’s long-awaited new era has suffered a significant setback.
The 39-year-old made his Jets debut against the Buffalo Bills after arriving from the Green Bay Packers, with whom he had spent the previous 17 seasons, via a trade during the offseason.
Armed with a four-time MVP at quarterback and having reworked their roster in order to ‘win-now,’ there was a sense of optimism amongst Jets supporters as the team seeks its first playoff appearance since 2010.
However, just four snaps into Rodgers’ New York career, disaster struck. He was sacked by Bills defensive end Leonard Floyd and appeared to be in much discomfort, remaining on the ground for several minutes before being helped off the field.
Rodgers has since been confirmed to have suffered a complete tear of his left Achilles, ruling him out for the remainder of the season.
“I hurt for Aaron and how much he has invested in all of this. I’m still going to hold out hope,” said Jets head coach Robert Saleh, shortly after the game before the severity of the injury was confirmed. “But my heart’s with Aaron right now, nobody else.”
If the shift in tone was noticeable and the outlook for the Jets immediately seemingly somewhat bleak, Rodgers’ supporting cast proved that all was not lost as they battled the Bills all the way into overtime.
Zach Wilson, the Jets’ starting quarterback for the last two seasons, checked into the game and threw for 140 yards, going 14-21 on passes, completing one touchdown and one interception.
Breece Hall rushed for 127 yards on 10 carries, Garrett Wilson tipped the ball to himself for an impressive touchdown in the fourth quarter and kicker Greg Zuerlein chipped in with three field goals.
However, it was on the defensive side where the Jets really shone. Gang Green forced four turnovers from Bills quarterback Josh Allen – a fumble to go along with three interceptions by Jordan Whitehead. That’s a career-worst statistic for Allen.
The star of the show on Monday ended up being Xavier Gipson. Just under a minute into overtime, the undrafted rookie wide receiver out of Stephen F. Austin University returned a punt 65 yards for a walk-off touchdown. That was just the third overtime punt return touchdown in NFL history.
The MetLife Stadium was jubilant as the Jets celebrated their 22-16 victory, a stark contrast to the atmosphere during the first quarter.
Where do the Jets go from here?
It is worth noting that New York essentially improvised much of their offensive display, having expected to go into the season with their future Hall of Famer running the show.
Producing this type of performance on the fly was genuinely impressive and lends hope to the idea that this Jets side will be able to improve further after they have fully adjusted to this nightmare scenario of playing without Rodgers via revamped practice sessions.
It may seem unthinkable to already be faced with the prospect of life without Rodgers, but the NFL does not wait for anyone.
The Jets’ defensive core proved that they could do more than hold their own on Monday and it shouldn’t be forgotten that New York boast the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, Sauce Gardner, amongst its ranks.
Their pass rush put pressure on Allen all night, while the likes of D.J. Reed and Quincy Williams racked up the tackles. It is unlikely that they will be able to frustrate NFL offenses to this extent across the entire season, but this was a promising start.
Hall’s return from the ACL injury that he suffered last season was also encouraging, with his 127 yards including an 83-yard dash. The Jets will hope that they can count on more from Wilson and Dalvin Cook, while Gipson continuing to contribute would be an added bonus.
Back in January, Wilson was asked about what his reaction would be if the Jets were to add a new quarterback. He responded: “I’m gonna make that dude’s life hell in practice every day.”
Saleh confirmed after the victory over the Bills that Wilson will be “the guy” going forward. The only other quarterback on the Jets’ roster is Tim Boyle, who is currently listed amongst the practice squad and was not active last night.
After entering the league to much fanfare as the second overall draft pick in 2021, Wilson’s first two years in the league did not go as planned, with the Jets falling to a losing record in both of his seasons as a starter.
He spent time as the second and third-string quarterback behind Mike White and Joe Flacco in his sophomore year, before the keys were handed over to Rodgers.
The 24-year-old Wilson now has the opportunity to take control of an offense that he is familiar with whilst also acknowledging that it is no longer built for him.
Despite Boyle being the only other quarterback on the roster, Saleh’s comments indicate that the Jets will not pursue an quarterback in that position in the trade market, nor will they look to recruit a veteran free agent such as Matt Ryan or Carson Wentz.
However, despite the Jets’ perceived loyalty to him, it will likely take personal improvement from Wilson for the franchise to retain their faith in him throughout the year.