Who needs a quarterback anyway?
The New York Jets lost Aaron Rodgers to a possible Achilles injury on the first possession of his debut, but they still managed to defeat the Buffalo Bills 22-16 without one of their quarterbacks even touching the ball in overtime.
Undrafted rookie Xavier Gipson returned a punt 65 yards for the touchdown to cap the Jets’ comeback victory during a season opener that touched on every emotion.
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"It felt like I was dreaming," Gipson said of crossing the goal line. "I didn't know what to do, I just took off running. It was amazing, for sure."
That range of emotions began just minutes into the game with Rodgers' brief cameo and stunning departure.
Zach Wilson went from being the Jets' quarterback of the future, to their quarterback of the past to their quarterback of the present...all within one calendar year.
Had Jets fans tuned into Monday night's season-opening game a few minutes late, they might have been confused to see Wilson under center. He replaced Aaron Rodgers, the recently acquired four-time MVP, on the Jets' opening possession after the Rodgers era got off to a disastrous start.
Rodgers was ruled out after suffering a possible Achilles injury while being sacked on the offense's first drive of the game. He was then replaced by the quarterback he was brought in to replace.
"I have so much love for him so my heart goes out to him," Wilson said of Rodgers. "I know he'll find a way to keep working to get back. But it's tough. It hurts us as a team. But my job as quarterback is I gotta step up and I gotta be able to be as efficient as I can in that offense."
He did enough - with plenty of help from his defense, notably Jordan Whitehead, who intercepted Josh Allen three times - to guide the Jets to victory over the three-time defending AFC East champions.
Wilson found Garrett Wilson on third-and-5 for a 14-yard gain that brought the Jets to the Buffalo nine-yard line. The two then connected on a three-yard touchdown, with the wide receiver making a leaping grab to cap an eight-play, 57-yard drive to even the score at 13-13 with 4:55 to go.
"He balled in that second half," Garrett Wilson said of Zach Wilson. "Went out there and just let it loose, slinging it around. We're excited to get to work, me and Zach."
The Jets defense, expected to keep the team in games regardless of who is at quarterback, then forced a turnover, with Quinnen Williams recovering a fumble by Bills quarterback Josh Allen to give New York possession at the Buffalo 27-yard line.
Facing fourth-and-1 at the 18, Jets coach Robert Saleh elected to go for it rather than kick a potential go-ahead field goal, and Wilson picked up two yards on the QB sneak to extend the drive. Following rushes by Dalvin Cook and Michael Carter, Greg Zuerlein converted a 30-yard field goal with 1:48 remaining to give the Jets a 16-13 advantage.
Allen and the Bills marched down field, setting up a 50-yard field goal by Tyler Bass that hit the upright and deflected in to tie the score at 16-16 with two seconds remaining.
In overtime, the Jets defense forced a three-and-out, setting the stage for Gipson’s walk-off punt return.
Wilson completed 14 of 21 passes for 140 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Breece Hall, who returned from a torn ACL suffered during his rookie season, had 10 carries for 127 yards, including an 83-yard first-quarter run.
Cook had 13 carries for 33 yards. Allen Lazard had two catches for 46 yards and Wilson finished with five catches for 34 yards and a touchdown in the win.
"A lot of emotions, right?" Zach Wilson said. "Like Week 1, opening day, trying to learn as much as I can from [Rodgers], but I also gotta make sure I'm ready to go. So, a lot of emotions. You gotta be able to try and stay calm and go out there and perform as best you can."