Defense bails out Jets after losing Rodgers, forcing four Bills turnovers

ByRich Cimini and Alaina Getzenberg ESPN logo
Tuesday, September 12, 2023

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Aaron Rodgers lasted just moments into his New York Jets career before he suffered what is feared to be a serious left Achilles injury. But the Jets were able to stay in the game and squeak past the Buffalo Bills, 22-16in overtime, after forcing four turnovers from Bills quarterback Josh Allen and getting a 65-yard punt return from Xavier Gipson to win it.

New York Jets

Pure devastation. There's no other way to describe it. Four plays into the Rodgers era and ...

Worst. Nightmare. Ever.

Rodgers suffered a potentially serious injury in Monday night's win over the Bills, temporarily draining the energy out of a sold-out MetLife Stadium and imperiling the Jets' dreams of a Super Bowl.

Even for the Jets, who have a tortured history of quarterback calamities, this stretched the bounds of bad luck. Everything was built around Rodgers, 39, the four-time MVP whom they acquired in the offseason, and it all changed in a heartbeat.

The Jets rallied from a 10-3 deficit to pull out an emotional win -- thanks to four takeaways by the defense and the overtime punt return -- but the glow of the win soon will fade with the reality that they might not have Rodgers for a while.

A rusty Duane Brown, 38, who had minimal practice time at left tackle in training camp as he recovered from a shoulder injury, got beat by defensive end Leonard Floyd. Rodgers tried to spin away, but his lower left leg got caught in the new turf. And that was that.

Minutes later, he was carted to the locker room.

Former starter Zach Wilson, who spent the summer learning at Rodgers' side, came off the bench and threw one costly interception, but he made a couple of plays and didn't get in the way of the comeback. He was decent in the preseason, but that was against backups and vanilla coverages.

If the Jets lose Rodgers for an extended period, they're in big trouble. They can sign Tim Boyle from the practice squad and add another vet (Joe Flacco?), but none of them is close to Rodgers.

Troubling trend: Brown and right tackle Mekhi Becton had some early pass-protection issues, putting Rodgers under duress. The coaches professed confidence in Brown despite his long layoff, insisting he'd be up to speed even though he had only a handful of practices. Clearly, he wasn't. Brown settled down as the game progressed, but the damage was done.

Silver lining: The Jets received two great individual performances by safety Jordan Whitehead (three interceptions) and running back Breece Hall (10 carries for 127 yards). Hall, in his first game action since his ACL injury last October, flashed his old speed, hitting 20 mph on the GPS. Had it not been for the injury, he certainly would've had more carries, but the coaches wanted to ease him in. Whitehead, who had only two interceptions last season, tied a franchise record. He was the catalyst for an inspired defensive effort that forced Josh Allen into four turnovers.

Pivotal play: Garrett Wilson made an unbelievable, game-tying touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. Incredibly, he tipped it to himself and gained possession as he fell backward on a back-shoulder throw. Wilson, coming off a Rookie of the Year season, has the makings of a superstar.

Eye-popping Next Gen Stat: On Wilson's touchdown catch, the completion probability was only 34.5% -- and it was only a 3-yard pass. The percentage was so low because there were only 0.6 yards of separation between Wilson and Tre'Davious White. And, oh, yeah, he did some juggling, too. -- Rich Cimini

Next game: at Cowboys (4:25 p.m. ET, Sept. 17)

Buffalo Bills

The game was the Bills' to lose after Rodgers went down. The Bills went into halftime up 13-3 and appeared in control. Then, Josh Allen and the offense unraveled.

The final dagger came after a quick three-and-out to start overtime by the Bills' offense, a drive that gained 3 yards, as the Jets responded with the 65-yard punt return touchdown by Gipson.

In the final two quarters, Allen threw two more interceptions and fumbled, allowing the Jets back into the game.

All three interceptions were caught by Whitehead on throws of 15-plus air yards; Allen finished the game 2-of-6 on those throws. After he went 1-of-9 on passes of 20-plus air yards against the Jets last season, two of the quarterback's interceptions came on downfield throws and he went 0-3 on such throws in the game overall.

Allen tied his career high with four turnovers (matching his season opener against the Jets in 2019) and leads the league with 84 turnovers since 2018. Throughout the game, Bills receivers had trouble getting open, limiting Allen's options. He was also not helped by the performance of the Bills' offensive line, especially right tackle Spencer Brown, with Allen sacked five times.

Sell on a breakout performance: This one goes to the combo of Greg Rousseau and Floyd. The Bills needed pass-rushers to emerge with Von Miller missing at least the first four games. Rousseau and Floyd showed great potential, albeit against a struggling offensive line, with four-plus pressures each and 1.5 sacks for Floyd.

Troubling trend: Bills' run defense. Giving up big plays on the ground was an issue for Buffalo at times last year, but overall, the team allowed only seven runs of 25-plus yards (tied for 15th most) in 2022. That number might be challenged quickly as the Jets broke off big gains early with running back Breece Hall picking up 26 and 83 yards on runs in the first half. The Bills have a deep interior defensive line, which is only more reason this should be a trend that can get corrected. Shoring up the run game should be a priority.

Eye-popping NextGen stat: Allen was traveling 17.33 mph when he let go of the ball on his first-half touchdown pass to wide receiver Stefon Diggs. That is the fastest speed on a touchdown pass in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016). It was also Allen's 30th touchdown pass on the run (8 or more mph) since 2020, the most in the NFL in that time.

Next game: vs. Raiders (1 p.m. ET, Sept. 17)

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