The Jets debut of Aaron Rodgers was over faster than Tom Brady’s drive-thru return-to-the-fold fete in Foxborough. Rodgers lasted just four plays before tearing an Achilles’ tendon on the MetLife Stadium turf Monday night. That fateful fourth play guaranteed that the Patriots won’t finish in fourth place in the four-team AFC East.
Maybe that would’ve been the case even if Rodgers weren’t out for the season. The Patriots delivered an encouraging performance in their season-opening 25-20 loss to the Eagles, but Rodgers’s injury reshuffled the deck in the division, removing a quarterback ace and replacing him with a joker. Suddenly, the Patriots don’t have the biggest question-mark quarterback in the cluster, and they scrubbed two games from their difficult schedule in which their defense would have had to combat an elite quarterback, one who beat them last year in Green Bay.
No one should be relishing or reveling in Rodgers’s injury or the Jets’ Kendall Roy-like misfortune. It’s horrible. Rodgers was the last man standing from the fraternity he shared with Brady, Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees. His injury robbed football fans of a compelling Broadway production.
But objectively no team stands to benefit more from Rodgers’s absence than the Patriots. The football butterfly effect could be massive for Bill Belichick and Mac Jones, both of whom must restore the faith and boost their job performance.
Going from Rodgers to Zach Wilson is like going from Taylor Swift to a cringe-inducing, screeching karaoke singer. Thus far, he makes Mark Sanchez look like Joe Namath. Wilson’s ineptitude and limitations as a processor are why the Jets courted Rodgers and convinced him to continue his career as QB of the NYJ. With even representative quarterback play last year, the uber-talented Jets would’ve made the playoffs.
No team has made Wilson — the No. 2 pick in the 2021 NFL Draft — look as lost as the Patriots have. Some of his interceptions against them have been the result of spring-break-worthy bad decision-making. The Patriots make his head spin like “The Exorcist” and sometimes his passes make you ask if he put his trademark 1980s teen movie villain headband over his eyes before he released them.
The Cobra Kai QB is 0-4 against the Patriots with two touchdowns passes, seven interceptions, a 50.9 completion percentage, a 50.6 passer rating, and zero clue. Playing him instead of Rodgers could be the difference between New England going 8-9 and 10-7, between missing the playoffs and making them, between Belichick breaking Don Shula’s record in the next two seasons or not, between Jones solidifying his status as the franchise quarterback or the team shopping for his replacement this offseason.
You don’t need to sample ayahuasca like A-Rod to see the ripple effect and the ramifications from his lost season branching out in your brain.
Rodgers tore an Achilles’ tendon. The Patriots’ Achilles’ heel defensively last season was quality NFL QBs. In an 8-9 season, their nine losses were to Rodgers, Tua Tagovailoa, Lamar Jackson, Justin Fields, Kirk Cousins, Josh Allen (twice), Derek Carr, and Joe Burrow. Fields, a member of the 2021 QB Class like Jones and Wilson, was the outlier as someone who isn’t a proven playoff-caliber starter.
In those nine defeats, the Patriots allowed a 66.8 percent completion percentage, 22 touchdown passes vs. eight interceptions, and a passer rating of 101.7. In New England’s eight wins, all against backups and borderline starters — save for an impressive shutout of Detroit’s Jared Goff — the Patriots allowed just a 54.9 percent completion percentage, six touchdowns vs. 11 interceptions, and a 63.8 passer rating.
This defense looks even more talented and difficult to decipher than last season’s edition. The unit made a statement in bottling up the defending NFC champion Philadelphia Eagles and making MVP runner-up Jalen Hurts resemble a pedestrian passer. They left an impression on the Eagles.
“That’s a great defense,” said Philly wideout DeVonta Smith, who had the Eagles’ lone offensive touchdown on a 5-yard catch.
“They do a great job disguising the coverage and things like that. They make it very tough for me to know what they’re in. They hold their coverage and disguise it until the last second. They are very athletic, a very fast defense and a very physical defense.”
And their job just got easier in the division.
For years, the Patriots enjoyed almost uninterrupted AFC East eminence because of Brady and the Quarterback Gap. However, this year they were slated to face the most accomplished class of opposing QBs in the division in the Belichick Era at a time when they were uncertain about their own signal-caller.
This was set up to be a deep group on paper. You had Rodgers, a four-time MVP and Super Bowl champion for the Jets. You have Miami’s Tagovailoa, who is 4-0 i against the Patriots and led the league in passer rating last season. You have Allen, who is a top-five NFL QB (at least when he’s not playing the Jets’ dominant defense) and owns the Patriots. He has finished in the top three of the MVP voting in two of the last three years and has three straight seasons with 35 or more TD passes.
Erase Rodgers from that picture. Tagovailoa, who exploded for 466 passing yards in the Dolphins’ season opener, is on deck for the Patriots Sunday. He’s no lock to last the season with his injury and concussion history. Miami was 8-5 in games he played and 1-3 in ones he missed in 2022.
The Rodgers reprieve and Tagovailoa’s ticking durability clock, along with Jones recapturing his rookie-year vibe, help the Patriots close the Quarterback Gap. It cinches that someone else is going to end up in the AFC East basement.
Jets coach Robert Saleh was unbowed on a dark day for the Jets, as the Rodgers injury was confirmed Tuesday.
“I don’t know why people are trying to put an obituary under our team name,” he said.
Coach Saleh, it’s for the same reason that you genuflected to Rodgers and your team signed his hand-picked receivers. It’s the same reason you and general manager Joe Douglas determined the path forward with Wilson as the starter was a dead end. Quarterbacks are the biggest difference-makers in the league.
The Patriots have learned that lesson the hard way in the post-Brady era.
But their path through the division just got easier with Rodgers out of the way.