It's not the same as it might have been, but the visual of Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers running onto the practice field this past week -- a sight that had his teammates light up -- has brought the kind of positivity New York has been lacking during a frustrating season.
It won't go back and prevent Rodgers from tearing his Achilles four plays into the 2023 season, seemingly ending New York's dreams of a deep playoff run before they started. But at least it is a light in a long, punishing tunnel. A sign of better days ahead.
Rodgers has already been ruled out for today's game against the Atlanta Falcons, an expected designation for the 40-year-old who had his practice window opened this week. If he's not activated by Dec. 20, he cannot play this season. Tim Boyle will start his second consecutive game today against the Falcons.
After talking to sources throughout the week about Rodgers' situation, here's the summation of where it all stands: It's appearing unlikely that Rodgers plays in a game at all this season.
If the Jets are eliminated from the playoff picture, Rodgers is not expected to play, sources say. Not a surprise, but that's where it stands. New York is 4-7 and its playoff chances hang by a thread. A loss today would make the climb even tougher. Rodgers has loosely targeted the Dec. 24 game against the Washington Commanders as his potential return date, but if the Jets are out of it by then, don't expect a return.
Rodgers insinuated as much this past week, saying it would be a risk for him to play when he's not 100% healthy. "If we are out of it, I would be surprised if they OK'd that to come back," he told reporters. Indeed.
There is a chance that Rodgers is activated this season, putting him back on the 53-man roster, sources say. But even then, if the team is out of it, he wouldn't play. He may, for instance, be the third QB only to be used in emergency, helping him stay connected and involved. The Jets have not used an emergency QB this season.
That Rodgers was on the practice field 77 days after surgery was a big win. As he noted this week, "From Sept. 12, my goal was to come back to the practice field and try and play." He made it.
But what's really happening is, Rodgers is continuing his rehab on the field. He's now cleared for certain football activities and if he wasn't practicing, he would be throwing to people anyway. It makes sense to throw to players, rather than trainers. None of his throws this past week came in team reps.
Sources say he's doing himself no further harm to be in a practice setting, and there is no point in slowing him down. The most prevalent risk would be his surgically repaired Achilles reacting to unexpected movement or trauma, and that won't happen until all parties sign off down the road.
If the Jets are still somehow alive in late December, and there is a decision to be made, much of it will be based on how he can protect himself from the unforeseen and unexpected. Until then, 11 weeks out, it's all positive.
What Rodgers is doing is unprecedented, based on conversations with those who study athlete recoveries. To be this mobile fewer than three months after surgery is wild. And those with the Jets noted everyone's reaction to him doing it, serving as a bounce for the team.
Those close to Rodgers say he feels a responsibility and obligation to be back with the team after helping shape it this offseason before suffering the injury so early. Those with the Jets feel Rodgers has shown true leadership.
All part of the reason no one wants to stop him or slow him down -- as long as he's not at further risk.