The National Football League poked fun at conspiracy theorists suggesting games are scripted – but how could they be? Who could ever be this deranged and ridiculous?
There will never ben New York Jets’ mind-boggling 22-16 overtime victory vs. the Buffalo Bills is one of a kind.
Within four plays of Gang Green’s dream marriage to Aaron Rodgers, the star-crossed lovers were separated.
There may not be a reunion for some time, and while that is important, and equally devastating, to the 2023 Jets, it did not matter as undrafted rookie Xavier Gipson danced his way down the sideline for a 65-yard game-winning punt return touchdown.
Groundhog Day had arrived again for the Jets. Their Great White Hope at sports’ most important position replaced by his understudy who held them back in 2022.
On any other night that would have meant a loss which deflated all in Gotham Green inside MetLife Stadium.
But, on September 11, 2023, the New York Jets showed a remarkable unwillingness to succumb to its past failings.
The ghost of Favre and Tebow and Testeverde and Pennington all lingered for three quarters, until Robert Saleh’s All-Gas-No-Brakes Jets created a moment which will last in Jets folklore.
Rodgers’ injury ‘is not good’ as Saleh told reporters postgame – and that may live in infamy. His Achilles injury may spell the end of a dream, a decades-long fantasy which could have died on the Jets’ fourth offensive play.
‘I hurt for Aaron and how much he invested in all this,’ Saleh said. ‘I’m still going to say a prayer, I’m still going to hold out hope.’
The Jets coach said he learned nothing new but those crammed within JetLife gained new insight into the progression of Zach Wilson, who struggled throughout but ultimately helped haul the Jets into a winning position.
The Wilson of Hard Knocks was no longer come late Sunday night; that is, the hard-working, humbled Zach Wilson, who possessed no harm to the Jets’ Super Bowl chances.
The one which frustrated and beat the hope out of the Jets faithful returned, throwing the ball right to Bills ballhawk Matt Milano in the third quarter as New York trailed 10-3 just before half.
And yet before the night was out there was a new Zach, one capable of leading his team on a huge touchdown drive under increasing pressure and adversity.
Monday Night Football vs. Buffalo was not meant to be Wilson’s moment. Being thrust into a position which requires immaculate timing, chemistry and preparation is not usually kind to backups.
After all, it is Rodgers’ offense – and even when the keys were Wilson’s, it was by no means a Ferrari.
Wilson didn’t need to be flashy, anyway. His undeniable arm strength and talent and athleticism weren’t going to cut it against the AFC East rival.
‘I thought he was awesome,’ Saleh said of Wilson postgame. ‘I thought he commanded the huddle, the line of scrimmage, I thought he was gritty… we still have a lot of faith in him.’
Wilson threw a terrible interception, but unlike his Buffalo counterpart, bounced back to put his team in a better spot thereafter.
Bills quarterback Josh Allen played his part in the miraculous Jets victory. Against a vaunted defense, Allen struggled to ever acclimatize. He was sacked five times and threw three interceptions – all to safety Jordan Whitehead.
Allen’s final interception allowed Wilson to find Garrett Wilson for an extraordinary game-tying touchdown with 4:43 remaining in the ball game.
The latter Wilson tipped the ball with his palm facing the opposite way before then cradling it in, all while being closely guarded by All-Pro Tre’Davius White.
On the very next play, Allen fumbled twice, with the second being picked up by Jets linebacker Quincy Williams.
Then something of a brawl broke out at midfield which almost cleared the sidelines. With 4:51 remaining the Jets were back – and stronger than ever – and within a shot of a Cinderella ending led by the step-sister.
Saleh risked it all on 4th & 1 with 2:45 remaining. It took nerves of steel with the game tied at 13-13. Wilson repaid the faith and converted on a designed quarterback sneak.
New York opted to run the clock before Greg Zuerlin kicked the Jets ahead 16-13 from 30 yards.
So, with 108 seconds left in the ball game, Buffalo – for the first time – had a deficit. Josh Allen needed a touchdown to win, field goal. A moment to savor from a largely forgettable and embarrassing night.
Allen found Diggs in field goal range, only for the receiver to have committed pass interference on Sauce Gardner. No matter, Allen went back to Diggs again, and then again.
Two incompletions brought kicker Tyler Bass into the fold to ensure a crazy night could have a crazier ending. Of course, it couldn’t go in without a tease – kissing the left upright and going through.
Allen had a second opportunity to win the game in successive drives after Buffalo won the toss in OT. A holding penalty and stellar defense meant the Bills had to punt from their own 23.
Enter Gipson, the unheralded receiver/returner who made a name for himself on HBO’s Hard Knocks. The ex-Stephen F. Austin star had to fight for his way on the roster.
As Sam Martin punted to him, all Gipson had to do was show the world – and he did. The dark cloud which hung over the Jets had gone. It was there and will likely by now have returned, but for a few moments euphoria arrived.
This is what life under Aaron Rodgers was meant to be. And for a moment it exists under Zach Wilson.
One would be right to wonder how long this lasts but one thing is for sure, the Jets can have a happy marriage. For tonight at least, Groundhog Day – as Hollywood script writers showed – isn’t so bad.
The sad reality is Rodgers’ absence could very well relegate the Jets back to its B.R. (Before Rodgers) predicament.
In some ways, the Jets’ win is a painful one. Should they have shrunk on defense, should they have continued to be stifled on offense this would all be very easily explained away.
After the lights are turned out at MetLife and darkness returns, there is a lasting question.
Just how good would this never-say-die New York Jets team be with a certain four-time MVP under center?