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Jets Can't Take Much Anticipated Next Step Without Aaron Rodgers

Three plays. One throwaway. No Aaron Rodgers

It seemed like a run-of-the-mill sack at first glance. Buffalo Bills DE Leonard Floyd wrapped himself around Rodgers' lower half and brought him down the same way we see happen four or five times a game. Then, Rodgers sat on the grass in the middle of the huddle. 

The training staff escorted Rodgers off the field, and after what felt like an eternity, he was in the locker room with a boot on his foot. Rodgers' night was done, and a torn Achilles is likely to blame. With an injury like that, there's a good chance Rodgers doesn't make it back for months, if at all. 

Not all was lost in the short term. The New York Jets escaped the night with a notch in the win column despite their worst-case scenario coming to life. Bills QB Josh Allen evidently felt sympathy for the men on the opposing sideline after Rodgers went down. 

A preseason MVP favorite himself, Allen played what might be the worst game of his career since he became a real player in 2020. He threw three interceptions, all of which went straight to safety Jordan Whitehead. Boneheaded turnovers were the only chance the Jets had back into a game with Zach Wilson as their quarterback, and Allen handed it right to them. 

Life Without Rodgers

It would be nice if the rest of the season could be that easy. Sad to say, it probably won't be. When the euphoria of winning wears off, the Jets will have to face reality about where they go from here. 

Everything the Jets did this offseason revolved around the new man under center. They leveraged future draft capital and their free agent budget to build around and satisfy Rodgers, to build the team in his image. Without the centerpiece, the Jets are back where they were a year ago. 

Even that might not be as simple as looking at all the names on the depth chart. The defense is loaded at all three levels, and the offense has young firepower. There's no doubt about that, but one has to imagine the mindset is different now than it was a year ago. 

This year was supposed to be about taking the next step. The Jets were supposed to have an elite defense that would finally be complemented by an offense unlocking its young stars with a Hall of Fame quarterback. 

Last year was a "maybe we can compete" year, but 2023 was supposed to be an "it's our for the taking" year. To be thrown back down to the level they were trying to escape has to feel like a punch in the gut. 

There's no telling how that will wear on the team over the next three months, but it can't be good.

Wilson Isn't the Answer

Coach Robert Saleh said after the game that Wilson would be the starter for the rest of the way. That can't happen. Wilson was QB32 the last time he held a starting job. 

It's not like Wilson has a clean bill of health either, plus Tim Boyle will be coming off the practice squad to back up Wilson. There's no doubt in my mind that the Jets will do something at quarterback. 

The free agent route is the likeliest scenario. It's the cheapest and easiest, considering they don't have to whisk them away from another roster. Joe Flacco could provide a familiar face, but perhaps the familiarity isn't welcoming, considering the team went 1-3 with Flacco last season. 

The more serious option — if you can call it that — is Carson Wentz. Though he’s a chaos magnet, that's no different than Wilson. At least Wentz has the talent to occasionally make good on playing like a lunatic. 

Jets' Trade Options

The Jets must look to the trade market if they are adamant about not making this a lost season. The New Orleans Saints should be their first call. They are done with Jameis Winston as a starting quarterback. 

Though also a chaos magnet, like Wentz, Winston can at least handle a full playbook and will ensure WR Garrett Wilson gets his chances, hell or high water. 

They could also try prying Jacoby Brissett away from the Washington Commanders, but they might have a use for him themselves later this season. 

Beyond that, finding a capable and potentially up-for-grabs quarterback is hard. Young quarterbacks that could be available, like Tennessee Titans’ 2022 third-round pick Malik Willis, don't make sense for what the Jets need right now. 

Wilson or otherwise, the schedule won’t be easy on the Jets while they figure it out. They're in for a fury road of sorts. The Jets' next five opponents include the Cowboys, Patriots, Chiefs and Eagles. 

Two of those teams played in the Super Bowl a year ago; one looks like a favorite to make it there this season, and the other is coached by Bill Belichick, who has a history of putting Wilson in a headlock for 60 minutes. Belichick could just as easily do the same to whoever else the Jets try to play at quarterback. 

None of this is to say the Jets are going to crater. It's hard to be bad with a star-studded defense and two explosive play machines on offense in Wilson and RB Breece Hall

They will find ways to win games like they did a year ago and like they did on Sunday night. The tragedy is there's no team in the league where being the same as a year ago stings more than for the Jets.

Derrik Klassen is an NFL and NFL Draft film analyst with a particular interest in quarterbacks. Klassen’s work is also featured on Bleacher Report and Reception Perception. You can follow him on Twitter (X) at @QBKlass.