The scene at MetLife Stadium on Monday night was like a movie. In fact, how the Jets-Bills game unfolded was very similar to the pilot of “Friday Night Lights,” when Dillon High School’s celebrated quarterback Jason Street went down with a season-ending injury in the first game. The Panthers rallied that night without their quarterback and went on to capture the state championship.
Jets fans are surely hoping for a similar ending for the 2023 season after the team lost future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers on Monday night. Like the Panthers, New York rallied to win the game, but it’ll be an uphill battle from here if Robert Saleh’s team is going to mimic the success the fictional Panthers had without Street.
How successful the Jets would have been with Rodgers behind center will always be a mystery. What won’t be, though, is what they do the rest of the year without him. This was a team that was in the thick of the playoff race last season before the offense sank quicker than a cooler in quicksand. Will history repeat itself now, or will the Jets avoid another late-season collapse? Will it even matter by that point in the season? These questions will undeniably be answered in the coming days, weeks and months.
Being an optimist, I believe that the Jets have enough talent to still be a playoff team without Rodgers. Here are the five reasons why you should, too.
They still have Rodgers
No, Rodgers will not be physically making plays for the Jets this season. But he will still more than likely have a presence in the facility, in the quarterback room, on the practice field and on the sideline during games. That is invaluable for a young team and its young quarterback, Zach Wilson, who developed an instant rapport with Rodgers after the two became teammates.
Anyone that watched “Hard Knocks” (or “One Jets Drive,” the team’s in-house documentary), you saw firsthand the amount of respect Wilson has for Rodgers, who was in middle school when Rodgers led the Packers to a Super Bowl. Rodgers was an immense help to Wilson this summer, and there’s no reason to believe that Rodgers won’t continue to help Wilson going forward.
Wilson is better than he was last year
Why did the Jets beat the Bills without Rodgers? Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen committed four turnovers that led to 13 Jets points. And while he did throw a pick that resulted in a Bills field goal, Wilson was much more careful with the ball and put his defense in more favorable positions than his counterpart.
Wilson’s numbers weren’t gaudy but they were plenty efficient. He went 14 of 21 for 140 yards that included a nifty touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson that helped force overtime.
Along with not losing the game, starting quarterbacks also need to more often than not make the big throw in weighty moments. Wilson did that on Monday night when he converted on a pair of third-down plays before throwing the game-tying touchdown.
GARRETT WILSON IS THAT GUY!!!
WE’RE TIED!!#BUFvsNYJ on ESPN pic.twitter.com/SUMWcTPF1e
— New York Jets (@nyjets)
In his third season, it appears that Wilson is leaps and bounds ahead of where he was when he was a rookie who won just three of 13 starts. Not only is he more comfortable with the Jets offense, it appears that Wilson has gotten more adjusted to the speed of the NFL. He also appears to have a better understanding of his strengths and limits as a quarterback, which is something that not all starting NFL quarterbacks possess.
The offense is better
It’s easy to forget how good the Jets offense looked before Breece Hall’s injury seven games into the 2022 season. The Jets scored 24, 40 and 27 points in the previous three games before Hall was lost for the season after suffering a knee injury.
Hall’s impact was felt on Monday night, his first game since injuring his knee. His 83-yard run re-energized a crowd that was still reeling from the sight of Rodgers limping to the locker room. Hall finished with 127 yards and was part of a rushing attack that gained 172 yards on 28 carries.
Dalvin Cook, who gained a workmanlike 33 yards on Monday night, will only get better as he continues to develop a rapport with the Jets offensive line. Speaking of the Jets line, the unit should also see a vast improvement in its collective play as it continues to work together. The unit, after all, didn’t get any time together during the preseason, so the fact that it had the success it had on Monday night (sans the pressures of Rodgers) speaks volumes to its potential.
No, we didn’t forget about the best part of New York’s offense: Garrett Wilson. Last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year is on the precipice of becoming a legitimate star. His touchdown reception on Monday night was a testament to his talent and work ethic. A receiver like Wilson can easily be the difference between winning or losing a tight game. Wilson routinely makes plays the majority of receivers can’t make.
A dominant defense
OK, it was hard to believe all of the hype surrounding the Jets defense this summer. You would have thought that a reincarnation of the “Steel Curtain” and ’85 Bears defense was unfolding in Florham Park. But the Jets defense lived up to the hype on Monday while showing that they are capable of willing Gang Green to victory.
Led by Jordan Whitehead’s three picks and Quinton Jefferson’s three sacks, the Jets defense was responsible for the majority of New York’s points on Monday night. The unit has star power (see Quinnen Williams and Sauce Gardner), savvy veterans and promising young players that include pass rushers Jermaine Johnson and rookie Will McDonald IV.
As good as they were on Monday, the Jets defense can’t be expected to lead New York to wins on a weekly basis. It will, however, need to be very good on a weekly basis for them to have a chance to win, and the unit will have to at least be occasionally great, especially early on as the offense continues to find its way without Rodgers.
We see at least one game every week decided by something that happened on special teams. A perfect example of this occurred Monday night when Jets rookie Xavier Gipson won the game on a 65-yard punt return in overtime.
Along with Gipson, the Jets special teams includes kicker Greg Zuerlein and punter Thomas Morstead. Zuerlein made all three of his field goal attempts on Monday night. Morstead booted two of his four punts inside Buffalo’s 20-yard line. He also recorded a 54-yard punt while showing that there’s still plenty of power left in his 37-year-old leg.
The Jets defense kept New York in the game. The offense didn’t lose it for them and their special teams ultimately won the game. That might very well be the formula for success for the 2023 Jets, who will rely on all three phases to win games on a weekly basis.
This content was originally published here.