NEW YORK — Aaron Rodgers is attempting to go where no man has gone before.
That’s play in a game three months after his Achilles surgery.
But why is the soon-to-be 40-year-old Rodgers taking this risk?
“It’s never been a why try, it’s been why not,” Rodgers told reporters on Thursday. “From September 12 on, my goal was to come back to the practice field and to try and play. Obviously, it was contingent on my health and the team to be in a position to make a run. That’s why I worked so hard during those 77 days was to get back on the field.
“I love to compete, so for me, it is wanting so badly to be out there. Also, to inspire people to attack the rehab a little bit differently. Obviously, I don’t think there are many people who can do what I did because of the resources that I had available to me. It was my job from sun up to sun down, was driving to rehab in the morning, four hours-plus there and then going home and doing more rehab at the house.
“A lot of people just get surgery and they just like the year is over. But I’m old, I don’t think I have the luxury of thinking about next year and I want to come back this year and play.”
Four plays into his debut with the Jets, Rodgers tore his Achilles, and many expected he would miss the remainder of the season just like most who suffered the injury. The surgery was done by Dr. Neal ElAttrache, an orthopedic surgeon in Los Angeles who has worked with various athletes, including Kobe Bryant, who tore his Achilles at age 34 in 2013.
However, the four-time MVP has been rehabbing relentlessly since his Sept. 13 surgery, trying to play in another game this year.
Rodgers’ goal is to compete against conventional rehab. He set specific benchmark goals during his rehab, hoping to achieve his goal of returning before the end of the season. When he told people his goal, Rodgers said many people tried to persuade him not to rush back to the field this season.
“My thing is, what’s the worst that can happen,” Rodgers said. “Something unfortunate again and you just slow the rehab down.
“I think if you take the rehab slower and a little bit more deliberate, five months, six months max is probably the length to get back to 100 percent if you really take it slow. In my opinion, there isn’t a downside of coming back and reinjuring it.”
First, Rodgers wanted to rehab rigorously for two months to see where he was. Then, he wanted to see where he was rehab-wise at the eight-and-a-half-week mark.
After he got close to eight weeks removed from his surgery, Rodgers said he was walking close to normal and started jogging on the Alter G, an anti-gravity treadmill.
“Had zero issues, did a number of ultrasounds on my Achilles to check the structure of it,” Rodgers said. “At nine weeks, we did an ultrasound and the doctor said he had never seen an Achilles at nine weeks like that.
“I think that’s a product of a lot of hard work, some rehab and some really good intentional diet, high levels of collagen, things that help you build back your tissue. The practice yesterday was a continuation of that.”
Rodgers had a bit of a win on Wednesday after the Jets opened his 21-day practice window. What that means is the Jets have 21 days to place Rodgers onto the 53-man roster. If Rodgers is not activated to the active roster by Dec. 20, he will miss the remainder of the season.
On Wednesday, Rodgers didn’t do much during the media availability portion of practice. He threw short passes to receivers and the Jets staff members. He also has a few dropbacks without any defenders in the area. Rodgers did not practice on Thursday.
Although he is cleared for some football activities, Rodgers is not cleared for football contact. Before Rodgers is activated and plays again, he says he would like to see some aspects of his game return.
“I gotta get some movement in the pocket for sure,” Rodgers said. “Obviously, I can throw, I can drop back, I can do some things in a small circle. But I don’t think I can protect myself as well as I liked to at this point.
“I have to do a little more. In practice, take live team reps. I took some reps at the end of practice 7-on-7 yesterday. But I need to take 11-on-11 reps and be able to move a little bit on a spot.”
Without Rodgers, the Jets offense has been dreadful. With Zach Wilson and now Tim Boyle as their starting quarterback, the Jets team has scored a total of 10 offensive touchdowns, which is the lowest in the NFL. Gang Green is also 31st in yards (260.2) and 30th in points per game (14.8). The Jets also rank dead last in third down conversion (24.1%) and red zone touchdowns (28%).
Because of the Jets’ anemic offense, a lot of criticism has fallen on the shoulders of coach Robert Saleh and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett. Rodgers has attended several games this season, watching from the sideline on a headset.
“It’s been consistent with the fan bases,” Rodgers said about the criticism. “They voice their opinion, that’s the beautiful thing about it and that’s the part of being in New York.
“They want to win now, and I respect that. I feel like the recipe is in place to be successful whether it is finishing up this year or starting fresh next year with those guys, so this team can get to where it wants to go.”
It also doesn’t help that the Jets have had eight different offensive line combinations through 11 games.
“It’s been frustrating, what’s happened upfront has been tough,” Rodgers said. “A lot of changes — Conor [McGovern] out for the season [knee], Wes [Schweitzer} got hurt, AVT [Alijah Vera-Tucker] out for the season, Mekhi [Becton] didn’t play last week, Duane [Brown] hasn’t played in a long time.
“That’s been tough for anyone under center. Obviously, we just haven’t been good in situational football. We made it tough on our defense.”
At 4-7, the Jets playoff hopes have almost completely faded. They currently sit 15th in the AFC with six games remaining. Rodgers has targeted the Jets Dec. 24 game against the Commanders as a possible target date for his return.
But for that to happen, the Jets would need to still be in playoff contention. There was speculation on if Rodgers would return to the field even if the Jets didn’t have a shot to play in the postseason.
However, that doesn’t appear to be the case.
“I don’t think that would make a ton of sense,” Rodgers said. “I don’t know what the team is going to feel about that. Obviously, as a competitor, I played in 2018 when we were out of it.
“I had a rough knee injury to start and I was fairly healthy midseason and I wanted to finish it out and it wasn’t even a question. We had an interim head coach and I had some pride in playing for Joe Philbin.
“A comeback this year before the four-month mark would mean I’m not 100 percent healthy. So, it would be a risk for myself, for the team to sign off of. If we are out of it, I would be surprised if they would OK that, the comeback.”