EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The New York Jets pulled off one of their most exciting and unlikely victories in years — and still couldn’t completely enjoy it.
Not with knowing they might have to go the rest of the way without their leader.
Aaron Rodgers was knocked out of the Jets’ 22-16 overtime win over the Buffalo Bills just four snaps into his debut on Monday night with what coach Robert Saleh said is believed to be an injured left Achilles tendon.
“It caught us off guard,” cornerback Sauce Gardner said. “But we dedicated winning the game to him.”
Rodgers was sacked by Buffalo’s Leonard Floyd and fell awkwardly on the leg. Saleh said the 39-year-old Rodgers would have the MRI on Tuesday after X-rays during the game were negative.
“Concerned with his Achilles,” a somber Saleh said. “MRI is probably going to confirm what we think is going to happen, so prayers tonight. But it’s not good.”
It cast a pall over the game — won when rookie Xavier Gipson returned a punt 65 yards for a touchdown — and perhaps the Jets’ season.
“It has been a roller coaster of emotions,” Gardner said.
New York’s aggressive defense forced four turnovers from Buffalo’s Josh Allen, who was picked off three times by Jordan Whitehead in a wild and often ugly season opener.
“We made it pretty hard on ourselves,” Bills coach Sean McDermott said. “When you turn the ball over four times, it’s hard to win in this league. You’re playing two opponents: the one on the other sideline and yourself. That’s what we did tonight and that’s not the right formula to win games.”
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 with 2 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.
“They’ve given me the opportunity and given me the chance,” Gipson said. “I guess it was my time. My time came to light.”
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. “It sucks when you feel like the reason, and I am the reason we lost.”
The Jets had tied it at 13 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.
After a 26-yard run by Breece Hall on the Jets’ opening play, Rodgers threw his first pass away after getting heavy pressure from Greg 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.
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. Wilson, who finished 14 of 21 for 140 yards, including the TD pass, and an interception, is expected to start next Sunday at Dallas.
“My job as a quarterback is I’ve got to step up,” Wilson said. “I’ve got to be as efficient as I can in that offense. Just a lot of emotions.”
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’s 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.
Bills: Host the Las Vegas Raiders in their home opener next Sunday.
Jets: Travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys next Sunday.
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