On Wednesday afternoon, Jets QB Aaron Rodgers returned to the practice field on a limited basis. Eleven weeks following surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon and four days before the Jets' home date with the Atlanta Falcons, Rodgers was back in a limited fashion on a brisk late-autumn day.
"He's an energy person," said LB Quincy Williams. "So, the first thing he did coming on the field, that was the biggest thing. It was just like a lot more energy, something we needed."
Controlling What You Can Control
While Rodgers' 21-day practice window opened this week, he won't factor in the outcome Sunday at MetLife Stadium. He is holding out hope that he can get healthy over the next few weeks while the Jets move into playoff contention. The Jets (4-7), a club that will turn to QB Tim Boyle to make a second consecutive start, have lost four games in a row. After their 34-13 Black Friday loss to the Dolphins, HC Robert Saleh talked to his players about narrowing their focus.
"Obviously when things aren't going the way you want, you can get frustrated, you can start pressing to make things happen," Saleh said. "And the reality is the focus just needs to be on doing what you do best, having an identity, controlling what you have control over and just being dominant every time you have a chance to be on the field. While the intent is right, there are a lot of guys pressing and losing the identity of what makes them special. But the focal point is on us, challenging ourselves, challenging each other, challenging everyone in the organization to find a way to get better and reconnect to the identity that makes us all special."
Rodgers, the man with the top TD-to-INT ratio in NFL history, was the special offseason acquisition that seemed destined to make the Jets into instant contenders. But he went down four snaps into the season, injuries along the offensive line have necessitated eight different starting combinations up front, three QBs have started and there has been a youth movement at WR. The offense was limited to 1 TD vs. the Dolphins, but Boyle, who completed 19 of 26 for 136 yards with 1 TD and 1 INT in the fourth quarter, believes there was something to build off heading into a date with the Falcons.
"Obviously the score was not what we wanted, but I think we were moving the ball and we were finding completions," he said. "We were no huddle and guys were catching the ball. I was seeing it well, and I think that's something to build on, just continuing to get completions."
Mobile Memory for Robert Saleh and Desmond Ridder
Atlanta halted a three-game losing streak last Sunday with a 24-15 win over the Saints. Despite a 1-4 road record and inconsistency at QB, the Falcons (5-6) are tied for first place atop the NFC South. After getting benched for two games, Desmond Ridder started against New Orleans and completed 13 of 21 for 168 yards with 1 TD and 2 INT.
Less than two years ago, Ridder worked under Robert Saleh's staff that led the National team to a 20-10 win over the American outfit in the Senior Bowl. Ridder, who was selected by Atlanta in the third round of the 2022 NFL draft, completed 4-of-6 passes for 68 yards and threw ,2 TDs including a fourth-quarter score to future Dallas Cowboys TE Jake Ferguson as Jets TE coach Ron Middletown (who was leading the National team) walked off a winner. Saleh recalled this week a moment he shared with Ridder during the final stanza.
"I walked up to him and said are you ready for this big drive? And he said, we're going to score," Saleh said. "And he went right down and we scored. He walked off he field and said, 'I told you.' I was like this dude, the whole week was just fantastic. Just working with him, I was really excited to see where he would wind up. And he ended up in Atlanta and I was quick to text [Falcons HC] Arthur [Smith] and said he is going to be your favorite player buddy."
Ridder is tied for No. 4 among QBs in total giveaways with 14 (8 INTs, 6 Fumbles) and tied for No. 2with 4 lost strip sacks. While he finds his way, the Falcons have established one of the best ground attacks in the NFL. After amassing 228 rush yards vs. the Saints, the Birds have the NFL's No. 4-ranked rush offense (139.3 yds/g) and they'll face a Jets defense that ranks fourth in yards per play (4.81) but 31st in rush yards per game (140.3).
"Mainly it's being consistent with our run fits every time, just having everybody running to the ball also," said Quincy Williams, who has 96 tackles and leads the defense with 11 TFL. "Just harping on that this week also as far as making sure we have the same run fits every single time because they're not going to lean away from the running the ball. Like once we stop them, they're one of those teams that is going to continue doing their stuff. They're not going to get away from it after we stop them."
The Falcons top weapon is RB Bijan Robinson, a standout rookie from Texas who totaled 123 scrimmage yards and 2 TDs against the Saints.
"He's a really good back," Williams said. "Coming up with a really good tackling plan, he has good yards after contact. The biggest thing is the tackling plan for him and then just getting all 11 to the ball."
One Day at a Time
The Jets will attempt to reconnect with their identity against Atlanta. Rodgers won't make any plays Sunday but his return to the practice field sent a loud message about embracing each individual challenge.
"So, just excited to actually go with him through this process, just him getting back on the field, getting healthier," LB C.J. Mosley said. "He's a well-respected vet. He's been around a long time. So, just him being in the building for the whole team really, it's just another sign for us to just keep taking it one day at a time, keep getting better. Just got to keep going."