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Aaron Rodgers injury: New York Jets assess options after quarterback ruled out for season

New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers suffers an injury as he is sacked by Buffalo Bills defensive end Leonard Floyd
Aaron Rodgers was injured as he was sacked by Leonard Floyd

NFL 2023 regular season

Dates: 7 September 2023-7 January 2024

BBC coverage: Listen to live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Sports Extra and the BBC Sport website every Sunday.

This was supposed to be the start of a new era for the long-suffering New York Jets.

A superstar signing made for the Big Apple market, Aaron Rodgers was supposed to be the elite quarterback the Jets had craved - the man to end the NFL's longest play-off drought of 12 years.

The arrival of the NFL's four-time Most Valuable Player could perhaps even thrust them into Super Bowl contention.

Yet in his very first game since his blockbuster trade from the Green Bay Packers, the unthinkable happened.

After just four snaps with the Jets, Rodgers suffered a season-ending injury during Monday's game with the Buffalo Bills.

The look on coach Robert Saleh's face summed up the feeling of devastation for the Jets, whose only Super Bowl appearance came as they won in 1969.

They had gone all in on the possibility of Rodgers leading a championship tilt this season, so where do the Jets and their veteran quarterback go from here?

Rodgers begins road to recovery

Aaron Rodgers is helped from the field
Rodgers was the NFL's MVP four times between 2011 and 2021

An MRI scan on Tuesday showed Rodgers has torn the Achilles tendon in his left leg, an injury which requires surgery and normally takes players between nine and 12 months to recover from.

Rodgers joined the Jets on a two-year deal so could return to play the 2024 season - but will he want to, and what condition would he be in?

He has not missed a game through injury since 2017 and although he was the league's MVP for 2020 and 2021, his figures declined last season as he played on with a thumb injury. Now he has a torn Achilles and turns 40 in December.

Tom Brady may have played until he was 45 but the seven-time Super Bowl winner is the exception rather than the rule. Rodgers admitted he was 90% sure of retiring before going into a 'dark retreat' in February, and there will likely be more soul-searching during his recovery.

There is still the dangling carrot of joining an exclusive group of QBs to win multiple Super Bowls. Despite being a four-time MVP, Rodgers' only NFL title came in 2011.

And the Jets could still provide him with a chance to go for another next season, as the core of the squad they built for Rodgers is also under contract for 2024.

Who will replace Rodgers at quarterback?

Less than five minutes into the new season, the Jets' offence was being led by Zach Wilson, the man they gave up on last year.

The Jets selected him with the number two pick in the 2021 draft but demoted him to third-string last November and benched him after he was booed during a game in December.

Having acquired Rodgers as their franchise quarterback, the Jets hoped it would be a chance for Wilson to learn from the future Hall of Famer and develop as his back-up. Instead he's been thrust back into the limelight.

The 22-year-old has won eight of his 22 games as a starter, throwing 16 touchdowns and 19 interceptions. After replacing Rodgers on Monday, he completed 14-of-21 for 140 yards, one touchdown and one interception. All uninspiring stuff.

But New York still beat Buffalo 22-16 in overtime and coach Saleh said on Tuesday: "Zach is our quarterback, we have a lot of faith in Zach. We are excited for him and this opportunity he is going to get."

Tim Boyle has been promoted from the practice squad but the Jets will see what other quarterbacks are available. Mike White and Joe Flacco both started four games for them last season and although White is now Miami's back-up, Flacco is among the veteran free agents.

While teams will be reluctant to trade their back-up this early in the season, Dallas' Cooper Rush may be an option with the Cowboys having recently brought in Trey Lance as their third-string.

Salah added: "We are going to look at everything - veterans and young guys - but under no circumstance is any of this a competition. This is Zach's team and we are rolling with Zach."

Will the Jets be competitive without Rodgers?

Despite Rodgers' early loss against Buffalo, the Jets still managed to beat one of the favourites to reach the Super Bowl.

Saleh has turned the Jets' defence into one of the NFL's best and they showed on Monday that they remain strong. They sacked Josh Allen five times and forced four turnovers.

Last season's main concern was at quarterback. Wilson may be back in but at least he now has more weapons on offence.

The Jets' receivers already included last season's offensive rookie of the year Garrett Wilson, who made a superb touchdown catch on Monday, and although Randall Cobb and Allen Lazard were added because of their relationship with Rodgers, the former Packers are sure to be valuable assets for Wilson.

In Dalvin Cook the Jets also brought in an elite running back to split the carries with Breece Hall, who made an impressive return against Buffalo after his rookie year was halted by a knee injury.

The Jets may also have unearthed a game-changer on special teams, with undrafted rookie Xavier Gipson producing just the third punt return to win a game in overtime.

Saleh charged into the end zone to celebrate a victory which seemed unlikely when Rodgers hobbled off, but that euphoria will only carry his side so far, especially with Sunday's opponents Dallas having battered the New York Giants 40-0 in Week One.

Monday's win may have provided a blueprint for success, though. Wilson played a lot of screen passes, a safety-first approach designed to keep his offence edging forward and reduce the risk of turning the ball over with an ambitious play downfield.

The Jets also had an effective run game to fall back on which, going forward, could help take the heat off Wilson and keep grinding out the wins that would keep their play-off dream alive.