The National Football League kicked off its season last week, concluding their opening matchups Sept. 11 with a Monday night showdown between the perennial powerhouse Buffalo Bills and the revamped New York Jets. 

In recent years, the Jets have been nothing more than a disappointment to their fans. Currently, the team holds the longest active playoff drought, not only in the NFL, but in the entirety of North American sports, spanning 12 years of not reaching the postseason. Throughout these 12 years, the team only had a winning record once in 2015, when they went 10-6, demonstrating their recent history of being a losing team. The acquisition of Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers in May brought along something the Jets have been missing all these years: an elite-level quarterback. Players and coaches within the league then considered the Jets as a championship contender now that Rodgers was at the helm.

With Rodgers set to be in New York, the NFL chose the team to feature on its annual pre-season show “Hard Knocks,” which is an in-depth view of how a team prepares to start the season. The show features an insider look into practices, meetings with players, and funny locker room moments. A tradition for NFL fans to watch, Rodgers and the Jets became a household favorite as fans were able to take a closer look into the antics of Rodgers’ day-to-day routine. This included how Rodgers practices and prepares for games, as well as his notorious rants about football and life in general. The show was just an addition to the ongoing fanfare surrounding this Jets team. 

It was a magical scene as the opening ceremonies for the game began, a cumulation of all of the anticipation during a long and grueling off-season. Alone in the tunnel, Rodgers charged out onto the field at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey, waving a large American flag in remembrance of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. Anticipation in New York was now at its peak, with this entrance as the cherry on top. Football was officially back, with the Jets in prime position to have a great season with their all-time great quarterback.

The hype wouldn’t last long, as on the 4th play of the game, MetLife stadium went silent. After getting tackled by a rusher, Rodgers stood back up but immediately sat down, signaling something was seriously wrong with his foot. Shortly after, Rodgers was escorted off the field on a cart and subsequently ruled out for the remainder of the game. Backup quarterback Zach Wilson, the previous starter before Rodgers, was set to take the field. The Jets intended to let him learn under Rodgers for the foreseeable future but now threw him back into the fire. This was now Wilson’s moment to defeat one of the top teams in the league on primetime television while every Jets fan's excitement for the season flushed down the drain. 

The initial fear was that Rodgers’ tore his Achilles tendon, which typically requires a long recovery process. Recommended rehab takes upwards of 8-12 months, which for a 39-year-old Rodgers could prove to be challenging to bounce back from athletically. These fears were confirmed the next day on Tuesday, when Rodgers was officially diagnosed with a torn Achilles tendon, ending his 2023-24 season.

Wilson entered the game in relief of Rodgers, hoping to secure a win for the Jets despite the tragedy that occurred in 75 seconds. Wilson didn’t play well by any means, completing 14/21 of his passes, throwing for 140 yards, a touchdown, and an interception. His opposing quarterback, all-star Josh Allen, also had a horrific performance, completing 29/41 of his passes for 236 yards, a touchdown, and three interceptions. These three turnovers proved costly, keeping the Jets in the game and ultimately allowing them to score enough points to force overtime. 

There was magic in the air that night as the Jets pulled off the win in spectacular fashion. The Bills won the coin toss in overtime but couldn’t pull together a successful drive and were ultimately forced to punt the ball back to the Jets. Returning the punt was Xavier Gipson, an undrafted rookie free agent whose decision to be kept on the team during roster cuts was featured on “Hard Knocks.” With the score being 16-16 and the Jets receiving second possession in overtime, any scoring play wins the game for the Jets. After receiving the punt, Gipson displayed an incredible burst and sprinted between blocks into the endzone for a touchdown, sending the Jets faithful into a frenzy. Despite not having Aaron Rodgers, the Jets defeated a highly talented Buffalo Bills lineup, cementing themselves as a team not to doubt this season. 

Rodgers’ injury is yet another talking point in a long-standing debate among the NFL Players Association and league officials on whether to use grass or artificial turf for the field surface. To the players, turf creates a dangerous wobble due to its soft texture and doesn’t allow for the cleat to establish itself in the ground. Two days following his injury, the NFLPA released a statement on Twitter/X calling on the NFL to switch all fields to grass surfaces. The players argue that this switch in the material will lead to fewer non-contact injuries and keep the players more healthy overall. One of the spearheaders of this movement is Rodgers himself, who notably called on the NFL to provide grass surfaces dating back to November of last season.  

The quarterback room will also need another face, as the only two active quarterbacks on the Jets roster are Wilson and journeyman Tim Boyle. Acquiring another backup to reinforce this position could prove to be helpful for the Jets, as they are now slim at the most important position in football. Immediately following the injury, names of veteran arms who could step up and provide instant impact for the team were rumored to potentially be targeted by the Jets, including Carson Wentz, Cam Newton, Colin Kaepernick, Matt Ryan, Phillip Rivers, Joe Flacco, and Tom Brady. Although this scenario is unlikely, Jets head coach Robert Saleh has kept the door open for adding another quarterback, stating that “we’re gonna look at everything.” 

While the injury to Rodgers is significant, the Jets will lean on the strengths of various players to compete in a difficult AFC East division. Wide receiver Garrett Wilson and cornerback Sauce Gardner, who are the rookies of the year, respectively, will look to lead both the offensive and defensive attack for the Jets. Additionally, the two-headed monster in the backfield, consisting of star running backs Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook, will look to run the ball effectively to open up the passing attack for Zach Wilson. Defensively, veterans Quinnen Williams, Quincy Williams, and CJ Mosely will look to keep the Jets competitive in games.