By DENNIS WASZAK Jr. AP Pro Football Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Quarterback Aaron Rodgers was knocked out of the game with what is feared to be a serious Achilles tendon injury just four plays into his debut for the New York Jets, who rallied behind their defense and stunned the Buffalo Bills, 22-16, in overtime on Monday night when rookie Xavier Gipson returned a punt 65 yards for the winning touchdown.
New York’s aggressive defense forced four turnovers by Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen, including three interceptions by Jordan Whitehead, in a wild and often ugly season opener. While the Jets concluded their night with Coach Robert Saleh joining a celebratory mob in the end zone, the injury to Rodgers cast a pall over their season.
Saleh said after the game that the injury was to Rodgers’ Achilles tendon and that the 39-year-old quarterback would have an MRI on Tuesday but that they fear the worst, which would mean a season-ending injury.
“It’s not good,” a somber Saleh said.
With the game tied, Micheal Clemons forced a fumble by Allen that was recovered by Quinnen Williams, setting up Greg Zuerlein’s third field goal – a 30-yarder – with 1:48 remaining to put the Jets ahead for the first time.
But Allen and the Bills had just enough time to get in scoring position again, and Tyler Bass’ 50-yard kick hit the left upright before going over the crossbar to tie it at 16-all with two seconds left in regulation.
After Buffalo went three-and-out to start overtime, Sam Martin punted 42 yards and Gipson fielded it, made a few moves early and then scampered down the left sideline, made a couple more cuts and zipped into the end zone to set off a huge celebration by his teammates.
Saleh was there to swarm Gipson, an undrafted rookie from Stephen F. Austin who made the team out of training camp.
It was the third punt return for a TD in overtime in NFL history, with Gipson joining Arizona’s Patrick Peterson (2011) and Kansas City’s Tamarick Vanover (1995).
Meanwhile, Allen tied a career high with his four turnovers and fell to 0-5 in overtime, including playoff games.
“I cost our team tonight,” said Allen, who was 29 of 41 for 236 yards and a touchdown to Stefon Diggs.
The Jets had tied it at 13-all with 4:55 left on an acrobatic catch by Garrett Wilson, who tipped Zach Wilson’s pass to himself with his right hand – and Tre’Davious White draped all over him – and corralled the ball as he fell on his back in the end zone.
A night that began with optimism for the Jets turned disappointing before the game was even four minutes old.
Rodgers was hurt when he was sacked by Buffalo’s Leonard Floyd and fell awkwardly on his left leg. The Jets said X-rays were negative while ruling him out for the rest of the game.
NFL Network reported Rodgers’ left foot was in a black walking boot as he was carted to the X-ray room.
After a 26-yard run by Breece Hall on the Jets’ opening play, Rodgers threw his first pass away after getting heavy pressure from Gregg Rousseau. Rodgers threw incomplete on the next play, but Terrel Bernard was called for defensive holding.
Then, Rodgers tried to avoid a rushing Floyd, who wrapped up the quarterback and took him down to the MetLife Stadium turf. Rodgers appeared to reach down at his leg before trainers attended to him. He stood up after a few moments, but needed help getting to New York’s sideline.
The 39-year-old Rodgers was taken to the blue medical tent to be examined – and then sat on a cart. Halfway to the locker room, he hopped off the cart and limped inside.
Zach Wilson replaced him just 3:45 into the game and finished 14 of 21 passing for 140 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
Rodgers injured the same leg in OTAs, as he missed a handful of practices with what was called a strained left calf muscle. By training camp, the injury appeared to be healed. He didn’t miss any practices.
Rodgers’ injury Monday night was reminiscent of the Jets’ 1999 opener, when starter Vinny Testaverde suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in the second quarter.
After Bass’ 40-yard field goal on Buffalo’s second offensive series put the Bills up 3-0, Zuerlein tied it with a 26-yarder to cap a drive jump-started by an 83-yard run by Hall. The second-year running back had his rookie season cut short last year in Week 7 when he tore the ACL in his left knee.
He spent the offseason working toward a comeback and made it to the opening game – and showed he’s healthy just 11 months after a major knee injury.
He finished with 127 yards on 10 carries.
Dalvin Cook made his Jets debut, rushing for 33 yards on 13 carries and catching three passes for 26 yards. He also got bragging rights again on his brother James, a Bills running back.
James Cook, who is five years younger, had 46 yards on 12 carries and four receptions for 17 yards.
Dalvin’s Vikings beat the Bills, 33-30, in overtime last season in the brothers’ first meeting.
Much more to come on this story.