EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers felt butterflies in his much-anticipated debut. He also felt love from the crowd, which gave him a loud ovation when he entered the game Saturday night at Met Life Stadium. “A special moment,” he said after the Jets’ 32-24 win over the New York Giants.
The night couldn’t have gone much better for Rodgers, who played two series, threw a touchdown pass and emerged unscathed in his first preseason action since 2018.
“I got in, didn’t get hurt, scored,” he said succinctly. “A good night.”
Declaring that “you can’t coach scared,” coach Robert Saleh played the 39-year-old quarterback in the Jets’ final exhibition game because he wanted him to get acclimated to the stadium and his new teammates before the season opener – a decision that sent shivers through a fan base that has witnessed many quarterback injuries over the years.
Rodgers started with a completion to wide receiver Garrett Wilson and ended his abbreviated night with a 14-yard touchdown pass to the 2022 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, giving the Jets a 7-0 lead. Rodgers spent the remainder of the game wearing a headset on the sideline, encouraging his new teammates.
It was a pass-heavy night for Rodgers, who completed 5 of 8 attempts for 47 yards against the Giants’ backups. They were mostly quick throws, allowing him to stay out of harm’s way. The blitz-heavy Giants were credited with one pressure and one quarterback hit, but it was more like a touch, not an actual hit. Not once was he knocked to the ground.
Rodgers stumbled once, falling down on a third-down scramble outside the pocket. He had to flee the pocket because running back Michael Carter missed a block on blitzing linebacker Isaiah Simmons, who was acquired in a trade on Thursday. Rodgers threw the ball away as he fell to the ground.
“It was good for him; he needs that,” Saleh said. “He needs a little bit of that action. It shows he’s still got mobility, he’s still got legs. We’ve been seeing it all camp.”
Rodgers played only nine snaps before yielding to backup Zach Wilson. His final pass was vintage Rodgers, a textbook back-shoulder pass to a well-covered Wilson. The ball found its way through a tight window before backup cornerback Gemon Green was able to adjust.
The Jets had a run called, but they changed to the pass when they recognized a cover-zero blitz by the Giants.
“Just a great throw from Aaron,” said Wilson, who had three receptions for 30 yards. “He’s so precise and has an answer to everything we see. So I just have to do my job at that point and make the catch.”
It was a Giants’ home game, but there were plenty of Jets fans in the house. They roared when he came on the field during a TV timeout. The four-time MVP admitted he had some nerves at the outset.
“Yeah, I had some butterflies, for sure,” he said. “I think that’s always normal. The first time I step on the field, it’s the standard, whether it’s year one playing the San Diego Chargers or year 19 in the preseason.”
Rodgers got a little frisky, too.
On the play before the touchdown, Rodgers and linebacker Jihad Ward exchanged words after Ward bumped him after a completion to wide receiver Mecole Hardman. After his touchdown throw to Wilson, Rodgers barked some words back at Ward.
Rodgers smiled when asked about the initial exchange..
“I kind of bumped him, too,” he said. “Wait for ‘Hard Knocks.'”
Rodgers noted, “I’ve got some fire left in me.”
The Jets’ starting offense wasn’t whole. Three key players were missing – running backs Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook and left tackle Duane Brown. All three are expected to be ready for the Buffalo Bills on Sept. 11.
After the game, Saleh announced that former first-round pick Mekhi Becton – a backup through most of training camp – will be the starting right tackle. He played 14 snaps with the starters to solidify the job. The Jets reported no injuries. Hardman left the game with a possible hand/finger injury, but he’s fine, according to Saleh.