A half century of Jets dread and gloom was supposed to end Monday night against the Buffalo Bills amid the ceremonious debut of Aaron Rodgers, one of the most prolific passers of his generation. Instead, the Jets’ defense, young receivers and a castaway quarterback, with help from four turnovers from the Bills’ Josh Allen, fueled a 22-16 comeback, overtime win.
Capping a scoring rally that began with a game-tying touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter, the Jets rookie receiver Xavier Gipson returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown in overtime to snatch back a victory against a division rival that seemed unlikely once Rodgers was hurt.
On the Jets’ third official offensive play of the game, left tackle Duane Brown missed a block against Bills linebacker Leonard Floyd. Rodgers tried to escape, but Floyd sacked Rodgers, rolling the quarterback’s legs as they both went to the ground. Rodgers stood up, then sat back down before walking to the sideline with help from Jets medical staff.
Rodgers was transported to the locker room on a cart and did not return after officially being ruled out with an ankle injury.
Jets Coach Robert Saleh said after the game that the team was concerned that Rodgers had injured an Achilles’ tendon. “M.R.I. is probably going to confirm what we think is already going to happen, so prayers tonight, but it’s not good,” he said.
The singer Justin Timberlake and the rapper Sexxy Red were among the celebrities who studded the sideline, drawn by the prospect of Rodgers’s Jets era. The fanfare inside MetLife Stadium quickly dulled as Zach Wilson came on in relief and the Jets reverted to last season’s philosophy — running the ball and playing stout defense.
The defense held the Bills to a field goal on the drive that followed Rodgers’s injury, and safety Jordan Whitehead intercepted an Allen pass on the Bills’ next series for the first of his three picks on the night.
The second-year running back Breece Hall, who tore an anterior cruciate ligament last season, immediately responded, jolting for an 83-yard run to set up a short Greg Zuerlein field goal to tie the game at 3-3 with 10 minutes 35 seconds remaining in the second quarter. The Bills retaliated with a 75-yard touchdown drive, completed by a 5-yard toss from Allen to Stefon Diggs.
After Wilson pitched an interception of his own on a short pass up the middle intended for Randall Cobb, Buffalo kicked a field goal to bring the score to 13-3 at halftime.
Wilson was hounded all evening by a Bills pass rush that dominated the Jets’ offensive line, a weakness of last season that carried into the Rodgers era. He was sacked twice and managed 140 yards on 14 of 21 passing, but he was able to begin the second half with a 12-play, 50-yard field goal drive to narrow the score to 13-6.
On the Bills’ next possession, Allen attempted to find Diggs in the end zone again, throwing a deep pass on second-and-13 from the Jets’ 41-yard line into double coverage. With defensive tackle Quinnen Williams bearing down on Allen as he threw, Whitehead caught his second interception, this time for a touchback. The Jets were unable to score off the turnover, going three-and-out.
The reality of a Rodgers-less offense all but silenced the crowd as the clocked ticked toward what seemed to be a gloomy ending. The unit sputtered as it had last season, choked by protection for Wilson that couldn’t hold up as he searched for high-percentage, risk-averse passing options.
With 9:43 remaining in the game, Whitehead snatched another pass from Allen — a toss aimed at Gabe Davis — gifting the Jets the ball at their own 43-yard line. On the ensuing drive, the Jets’ middling offense came up with the crucial plays it had seemed incapable of producing in the three previous quarters.
This is a developing story and will be updated.