Aaron Rodgers Is Broken And The Jets Are Back In The Mud
9:11 AM EDT on September 12, 2023
The first few seconds of Aaron Rodgers's tenure with the Jets could not have gone worse. The 39-year-old star quarterback, brought to New York in exchange for a treasure chest of draft picks to be the Jets' first great quarterback since, well, ever, dropped back to pass just twice for his new team in their season opener against the Bills on Monday night. His first drop-back resulted in an incompletion; his second resulted in a sack and an injury that knocked him out of the game and ended his season, and maybe his career.
Panic and mania set in almost immediately. Rodgers was first taken to the blue medical tent on the sideline, then put on a cart that drove him back into the bowels of the stadium, then marched into an X-ray room while wearing a walking boot on his left foot. Robert Saleh looked like someone had just kidnapped his whole family. Peyton Manning had a conniption on live TV. By halftime, Adam Schefter was on the air raving about "calf reverberations" in the same tone one might use in the immediate aftermath of a presidential assassination. When the game was over, Saleh all but confirmed what most people had already begun to suspect. "Concerned with his Achilles," he said to reporters. "MRI is probably gonna confirm what we think is already going to happen. So prayers tonight, but It's not good."
A football game was played between all of that, and a shockingly good one at that. The Jets beat Buffalo 22-16 thanks to a walk-off punt-return touchdown from rookie wide receiver Xavier Gipson in overtime. The Jets got to that point thanks to contributions at just about every position aside from quarterback, where former No. 2 overall pick Zach Wilson meekly filled in with 140 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. The Jets' defense flew around the field and scrambled the Bills' offense, coaxing four turnovers out of Josh Allen. Breece Hall ran for 127 yards on just 10 carries, Jordan Whitehead got himself a hat trick of interceptions, and Garrett Wilson got his team back in the game with a touchdown catch that will hold up as one of the best of the season:
Winning always feels good, but the result of last night's game may actually make the loss of Rodgers sting even harder. That's because the game was itself a perfect encapsulation of why the Jets gave up all those picks to bring Rodgers into the fold: This is a good team, loaded with killers on defense and at the skill positions, that just needs a competent quarterback to guide it. Rodgers wasn't a franchise savior, but rather a missing piece. All the Jets needed was a guy who could consistently get the ball to Garrett Wilson, make a few good-to-great throws per game, and generally take advantage of the hard defensive work put in by Quinnen Williams, Sauce Gardner, and C.J. Mosley. Without Rodgers, the Jets are flung back into the same frustrating position they were in last year, when they finished 7-10 and correctly deduced that a good quarterback could get them over the hump.
The problem the Jets face now is not that there is such a huge gap in talent between Zach Wilson and Rodgers, but that there is such a huge gap in talent between Wilson and, say, Derek Carr. Saleh spent most of last season making it clear that he feels a healthy amount of personal and professional disdain towards Wilson, and the result of last night's game probably didn't do anything to change those feelings. Wilson was allowed to throw 21 passes against the Bills, but the Jets spent most of the night executing the sort of screen- and run-heavy offense you might expect to see after an emergency fourth-string quarterback is forced into the game. Even Wilson's lone highlight, that touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson, was made memorable by the fact that he fucked up trying to place a back-shoulder throw. This guy was himself tabbed to be the Jets' savior when he was taken with the second overall pick in 2021, but the fact that he spent most of Monday night taking snaps out of a jumbo formation should tell you all you need to know about how much faith his coach has in him.
The Jets did not have any other quarterbacks available on the sideline last night, and the only additional QB in the building is practice-squad body Tim Boyle. The Jets find themselves right back where they were, scouring the free-agent quarterback market in the hopes of finding someone who will allow them to keep Wilson zip-tied to the bench. Is Joe Flacco about to walk through those doors again? Carson Wentz? Mike damn Glennon? Christ, this is depressing.
As for Rodgers, well, that might be that. The guy who claims to have already considered retirement several times may have finally had his decision made for him by a patch of wet artificial turf. If it's confirmed later today that he has a torn Achilles, expect a retirement announcement to come sometime in February during his weekly appearance on Pat McAfee's dumb show, after Rodgers is satisfied that everyone has spent the season paying a sufficient amount of attention to him.