Jets lose Aaron Rodgers after 4 plays, stun Bills on game-winning punt return 22-16

Jets beat Bills 22-16
New York Jets running back Breece Hall (20) carries the ball against the Buffalo Bills during the third quarter of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

EAST RUTHERFORD — The excitement of increased expectations and energy could be felt through miles entering the bowels of MetLife Stadium for the season opener for the New York Jets.

It evaporated on four plays. 

In what was touted as the debut of Aaron Rodgers with the Jets, the Hall-of-Fame quarterback lasted just four plays before injuring his ankle and having to leave the game.

“We’re concerned with his Achilles. MRI confirms what we think is going to happen so prayers tonight but it’s not good,” Robert Saleh said after the game. 

Rodgers would not return with an ankle injury. All that excitement felt before the game was quickly destroyed.

Aaron Rodgers injury Jets Week 1 Bills
New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers (8) is helped off the field during the first quarter of an NFL football game against the Buffalo Bills, Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Adam Hunger)

But it wasn’t lost forever on Monday night. 

Josh Allen found wide receiver Stefon Diggs in the back of the end zone for a 10-3 lead in the second quarter for the game’s first touchdown. Shortly after, backup quarterback Zach Wilson threw an interception to Matt Milano which gave Buffalo a 13-3 halftime lead. From there though, the Jets’ defense would take over for the remainder of the contest. 

After a second Greg Zuerlein field goal cut the deficit to one score to begin the second half, Jordan Whitehead would later tie a Jets single-game record for interceptions with two second-half picks on Allen. The three-interception game was the Jets’ first since Ty Law in 2006. New York forced three turnovers all in the second half as they confused and frustrated the Pro-Bowler. 

Whitehead’s third pick of the game set up an acrobatic goalline touchdown pass from Wilson to Garrett Wilson for the game-tying score and brought the crowd back into the game. The catch saw the Offensive Rookie of the Year bobble the ball but maintain possession as he hit the ground 

MetLife Stadium would shake just seconds later when a Josh Allen fumble (and his fourth turnover of the game) gave the ball right back to the Jets with under five minutes to play in the game. A fourth and 1 conversion from Zach Wilson on a sneak would give the Jets the ball in the red zone late in the contest. 

Zuerlein would connect on his fourth field goal of the game to give the Jets a 16-13 advantage. 

“They are an unbelievably resilient group through all that. The defense took it personally, taking the ball away four times, just overall an unbelievable game across the board,” Saleh said. 

From there, the defense, which had kept Allen and the high-powered Bills’ offense at bay for the entirety of the game, couldn’t stop the Allen-to-Diggs connection. The two Pro Bowl talents got into field goal range in the final seconds where Tyler Bass would doink in a 53-yard field goal attempt to tie the game and send the game into overtime. 

In the extra period, the Bills won the toss but went three-and-out quickly. On the punt return, undrafted rookie Xavier Gipson fielded a short punt and took it all the way back for the game-winning score in an improbable Week 1 victory for Gang Green. 

“I feel like I’m dreaming,” Gipson told AMNY. “It was meaningful knowing how hard I worked, how fast it could have ended. I thank Coach Saleh for believing me and giving me the opportunity.”

New York Jets wide receiver Xavier Gipson (82) celebrates after running a punt return back for a touchdown against the Buffalo Bills in overtime of an NFL football game, Monday, Sept. 11, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The Jets (1-0) will be on the road next Sunday in Dallas to face the Cowboys (1-0). Dallas is coming off a 40-0 win over the New York Giants Sunday night. 

Game Notes

  • Carl Lawson was a surprise inactive for the Jets Monday Night. There is no injury designation for the veteran pass rusher but New York reportedly wants to give him an extra week off as he recovers fully from the back injury he suffered during the preseason. 
  • A lone bright spot on the Jets’ offense was the return of Breece Hall. In his first game after suffering a torn ACL last season, Hall dominated in the few snaps he played. In total, the running back averaged over 12 yards a carry and 147 total yards of offense. 
  • Zach Wilson finished the day 14/21 passing for 140 yards, a touchdown, and a pick. Saleh called his performance “awesome” and that the team will have him run as the starting quarterback for the rest of the year should Rodgers not return. 

For more New York Jets news, turn to AMNY.com