Aaron Rodgers will celebrate his 40th birthday on Saturday. Eleven weeks following surgery to repair his torn Achilles tendon, he has returned to the Jets' practice field. On the finishing holes of his career, Rodgers is holding out hope of a late-season return.
"A lot of people just get surgery and it's like the year is over," Rodgers told reporters Thursday. "Like [Ravens RB] J.K. Dobbins who I was rehabbing with out there, like J.K. is thinking about next year. But I'm old. I don't feel like I have the luxury to think about next year. I want to come back this year and play."
Rodgers is stubborn, driven and as committed as ever. After he cleared the tears following the Leonard Floyd sack on opening night, Sept. 11 that sent him to the ground in Week 1 and on a stretcher, he has worked on what has been deemed impossible.
"Do you know my history?" he said. "It's never been a why try. It's been why not? From September 12, my goal was to come back to the practice field and try and play. Obviously, that was contingent on my health and also our team being in position to make a run. That's why I worked so hard for those 77 days is to get back on the field, get back out there with the guys, and I love to compete. So for me, it's wanting so badly to be out there and also to inspire other people to attack the rehab a little bit differently."
Rodgers' approach to his medical team and Jets doctors/trainers has been he will push his rehab as far he can without hurting himself. The Jets opened Rodgers' 21-day practice window on Wednesday and the team has some work to do to climb out of a 4-7 hole. They'll play host to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday and the Houston Texans on Dec. 10 before a visit to the Dolphins on Dec. 17.
"A comeback this year before the four month mark would mean I'm not 100% healthy, so it would be a risk for myself and team to sign off on," Rodgers said. "If we are out of it, I would be surprised if they OK'd that to come back."
See the best photos of the four-time NFL MVP back on the practice field 79 days after tearing his Achilles tendon during the season-opener against the Bills.
While Rodgers had a lighter practice Thursday, he intends to ramp up things next week.
"As the schedule lines up, if you get to 6-8, we have a Sunday [Christmas Eve vs. Washington] and Thursday [Dec. 28 at Cleveland] game, so I need to see how I respond in back-to-back practice days," Rodgers said. "This Sunday is obviously out of the question, but I'm going to push it next week to see how I'm feeling after like Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, how I respond."
When asked if it was possible he could line up before the Washington game, Rodgers said,: "I think anything is possible." If Rodgers does indeed see game action, he is not concerned about reinjuring his Achilles.
"My thinking is what's the worst that can happen?" he said. "Something unfortunate again and then you just slow the rehab down. I think by my own timetable if you take the rehab slower and a little bit more deliberate, five months, six months max is probably the length to get back to 100 percent% if you really take it slow. So in my opinion, there really is not a downside to coming back and reinjuring it."
In the midst of perhaps his most difficult season as a pro, Rodgers is back with his teammates and leading by example.
"I am hoping that the young guys see how much it means to me to be out there on the practice field," he said. "I love practicing. Every day matters. In order to be a true professional, you have to be intentional about everything. So, I am hoping I can inspire the younger guys to look at the game a little differently. The older guys say the [younger players] always take it for granted because it goes by so quickly and it does. You are sitting there at the end of your career thinking, man, I don't want to miss out on those moments. And that is why I want to come back, and I want to be a part of this. And I think every great leader wants to inspire their guys. True motivation comes from inside of us and hopefully we can find it and keep this thing alive."
Embraced by a passionate fanbase dying for a winner, Rodgers reiterated his belief in the current leadership structure and the promise of what's ahead.
"They voice their opinion," Rodgers said of Jets fans. "And I think that's the beautiful thing about it and also part of being in New York. They want to win now, and I respect that, but I feel like the recipe is in place to be really successful, and whether it's finishing up this year or starting fresh next year, I feel like with those guys in positions of leadership, this team can get to where it wants to go."