By Arnie Leshin
Where do we start, at Aaron Rodgers’ arrival, at his fourth and final snap at 4:01 into this much anticipated National Football League season opener, or at the unprecedented finish when the unexpected final score of 22-16 lit up the scoreboard?
The nasty weather had subsided. The heavy pre-game rain at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford combined with thunderstorms and a flood warning brought a sell-out crowd when 39-year veteran Rodgers burst out onto the field carrying an American flag in front of him.
All was going well. Rodgers was at 39 the new Jets’ starting quarterback, with the lone back-up Zach Wilson after he went from starter to the lone QB reserve. That was it, the anxious green and white fans had waited almost an entirely for this.
Then it stood for the national anthem, even sang along as the rain began to fall lightly, the thunderstorms weren’t as bad, and flood warnings were much less. Oh, and the upstate rival Buffalo Bills provided the opposition.
So it was another pro game played in the Garden State for the New York Jets, same as the rival New York Giants, which has won a pair of Super Bowls there behind quarterback El Manning, the Jets zero since the 1968-69 game at the Orange Bowl in Miami won by predicter Joe Namath and company.
Even the Bills’ taking the opening kickoff and going four and out was a dandy start for the home side. Now came Rodgers. He had waited since April when he signed and left behind 18 years calling signals for the Green Bay Packers. The throng stood and roared its approval. Let his arrival start.
Yeah, that it did, but it turned into a disaster. With the ball at his own 25 following the punt, the initial snap was dropped and then grabbed by Rodgers, the next was a 3-yard gain he scrambled for, and then came what became his last snap. He reached for it but Buffalo defender Leonard Floyd also did and crashed into Rodgers’ left leg.
The supporting cast that filled the stands lost its excitement. Rodgers reached for that leg then stretched it. Trainers appeared, ordered the injury cart brought, and Rodgers refused to get on it, instead raising up to limp down the hall to the trainers room.
Next came the disastrous news from the MRI staff. First thought of as an ankle injury, the 4-time All-Star learned it was a much worse torn Achilles tendon, done for the season he was told. He had tried to avoid Floyd the defender, but the latter wrapped him up and spun him around to the turf.
Rodgers then stood up after a few minutes, looked over at the Jets’ sideline and then sat on the turf — seemingly knowing he was seriously hurt. He needed help from the trainers to make it to the sidelines, where he was taken outside to the blue medical tent to be examined. Then Rodgers got off the cart to go to the locker room, hopped off near the stadium tunnel and stumbled inside.
Wilson, the third-year player and last year’s rather disappointing starter at quarterback, took the field 3:35 into the tilt and wound up 14-for-21 with a touchdown pass that was an unimaginable one-handed grab by wide receiver Garrett Wilson (no relation).
Head coach Robert Salah said third-stringer Tim Boyle would be promoted from the practice squad and that the Jets would explore their options to find a more experienced quarterback.
As for quarterback Wilson, he said he’s learned quite a lot since Rodgers took over.
“Yes, that is so”, Wilson said, “Now I just have to go with the flow, make game plans work, and I also feel much more comfortable.”
For his heroic stand, quarterback Wilson was good for 14-of-21 for 140 yards, and with the dynamic reception by the wide receiver Wilson, a touchdown.
Now let’s see how comfortable it will be at QB when the Jets take on the Cowboys Sunday at A T & T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Oops, almost forgot, the final score. Believe it — the New York Jets were actually the winner, 22-16, when upon recovering the Bills’ fourth turnover on a fumble at their own 33 with 3:14 remaining, kicked a field goal to knot the score at 16-16, then after fiercely stopping Buffalo in the first overtime, the green had 5-foot-9 rookie Xavier Gibson latch on the kick at his own 34 and dash the rest of the way with it, 66 yards untouched, into the end zone.
Forgetting Rodgers with the exiting moment, the entire team pounced on Gibson, the bench dashed onto the field, the crowd went wild, no rain, no thunderstorm, no flood warning, just an unbelievable unexcepted victory led by Gibson out of Stephen F. Austin, and he also contributed two kickoff returns for 46 yards. Not bad for an undrafted pick.
Yup, Jets 22, Bills 16, ring it up. Buffalo one touchdown and three field goals. New York two touchdowns and three field goals.
When brought on to hopefully, finally end the long draught of the Jets and their die-hard fans, Rodgers was acquired and immediately raised expectations for the frustrated franchise.
But four snaps shortly turned the ball back to Zach, and he now sits at 1-0 in the AFC East Division standings tied with the Miami Dolphins, who edged the Chargers in Los Angeles, 34-32, Sunday. The other division team, the New England Patriots, lost 25-22, the same day to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Tough to raise hope sans Rodgers, but Salah said the media and the fans should not knock Wilson being back at that position.
“Listen,” second-year mentor Salah said, “Zach is our quarterback right now and we have great trust in him, plus our defense was just great holding a stellar Buffalo offense down, and that’s what kept us in the game.
“We also survived in nasty weather and Aaron informed us that he will remain in the hands of the team, so that’s two more pluses, but certainly do not count us out.”
Returnee Breece Hall was the leading offensive leader for the Jets, 13 carries for 127 yards and four catches for 33 yards, newcomer Darren Cook 11 tugs for 64 yards, new wide receiver Alan Lazard four receptions for 48 yards. Defensively, it was 11 tackles and two sacks for Derek Reed, and 10 tackles and also a pair of sacks for Quinten Williams.
Taking care of the kicking was Greg Zuerlein, as he booted the two field goals, had four punts for 47 yards average, and also made a tackle on a Buffalo return.
And it was also a Monday Night Football Record with 22.6 million viewers.
But when you sort it all out, the Jets got the victory, they at least at some experience when Wilson took over, there are quite a number of other suitable quarterbacks out there, the campaign is brand new, the green is 1-0, and let’s see what happens in Cowboys land next.
Taken from the Garden State’s wild game was two things — the Rodgers season and maybe career, the Jets stunning triumph. Can’t get rid of either one, just take them and see what transpires next.