EAST RUTHERFORD — Aaron Rodgers would play — Robert Saleh decided that long ago. He didn’t want his new quarterback’s first game snaps to come in the Jets season opener, so, for just a bit, he’d have Rodgers lead this offense against the Giants in the preseason finale.
Get Rodgers comfortable. Get his feet wet. Then get him out of there.
Rodgers completed 5-of-8 passes for 47 yards in his two series. His final pass a beautiful 14-yard score to Garrett Wilson, placed where only Wilson could get it.
The Jets ended up beating the Giants, 32-24. It didn’t matter.
See you against Buffalo.
“I think we’re ready,” Rodgers said.
There are a couple throws every day, adding up to a handful or so each week. The defender is in an ideal position to make a play. Heck, usually he’s in a position where no throw is justified. Yet there Rodgers is, throwing in his direction, creating a window where one wasn’t there, completing a pass for a big play.
It’s exactly what he did on his touchdown to Wilson. Gemon Green was right there with Wilson. Rodgers just threw it inches over his head, Wilson plucked it out of the air, then landed in for the score.
It’s rare that a team is truly a quarterback away. That notion often clouds the many fundamental and foundational flaws keeping a roster from truly reaching the next level. The Jets are an anomaly — last year they really were a quarterback away. They had a championship-read defense, playmakers on offense and a line that, when healthy, was good enough. Competence likely gets them to the postseason last year.
This offseason they went out and got a Hall of Famer who has spent the summer erasing any and all doubts Father Time is knocking on his door.
The extraordinary is becoming ordinary for the Jets now that they have Rodgers. More importantly, as evident against the Giants, is how he is elevating those around him. The group in front of Rodgers is still a work in progress as they try to establish chemistry after not practicing together throughout the offseason or summer. Giants defensive coordinator Wink Martindale tried to exploit that by dialing up pressure packages as if the Snoopy Bowl was the Super Bowl.
Rodgers countered. Despite the endless barrage of defenders he wasn’t sacked once. He released all but one of his passes in under 2.5 seconds. He moved within the pocket to make the line’s life easier. The lone threat he faced of falling to the turf came when Michael Carter, adjusted to pick up a blitzing defender, missed the block and Isaiah Simmons rushed Rodgers from the pocket.
“I got in, didn’t get hurt, scored,” Rodgers said. “That’s a good night.”
Wilson, last year’s offensive rookie of the year, looks more dangerous with Rodgers. Mecole Hardman and Randall Cobb more than worthy complements. Tyler Conklin has flashed throughout training camp. Breece Hall and Dalvin Cook, who will lead the rushing attack, are waiting to return to the field.
The hype, as a result, is justifiably reaching levels not associated with this success-starved franchise in far too long. Even if the defense experiences a step back … the offense looks like one capable of picking them up.
An alien concept now New York’s green-and-white reality.
“We’ll take it one day at a time,” Saleh said. “It’s a start.”
The one thing that could have derailed this was likely what kept Saleh awake at night — even if he didn’t admit it. This game against the Giants didn’t actually matter. Yes, they wanted Rodgers and the starters to play, but this did risk injury. Were two series worth it if New York lost a star for the season?
Now, things get real. The real season begins Sept. 11.
If Saturday’s taste test was any indication …
The Jets are ready.