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    Friday, March 01, 2024

    Jets' Aaron Rodgers still focused on playing again this season and perhaps before Dec. 24

    Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa (1) interacts with New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers (8) after the team's win over the New York Jets during an NFL football game Friday, Nov. 24, 2023, in East Rutherford, N.J. (David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP)

    Florham Park, N.J. — Aaron Rodgers was leaned back in a chair at a board room table in the New York Jets' facility surrounded by a dozen local reporters when a simple question jumpstarted the conversation.

    Why even attempt to come back this season?

    "Why?" the quarterback asked incredulously. "Do you know my history? It's never been a 'why try?' It's why not?"

    Rodgers fully intends to play again this season and he hasn't ruled out being back in a few weeks. The four-time NFL MVP has been making a remarkably quick recovery since tearing his left Achilles tendon four snaps into his debut with the Jets on Sept. 11.

    He said he cried for most of the 24 hours after getting hurt, but quickly pivoted to plotting his return.

    "From Sept. 12 on, my goal was to come back to the practice field and try to play," Rodgers said Thursday. "Obviously, that was contingent on my health and also our team being in position to make a run."

    Rodgers returned to practice Wednesday — the three-month anniversary of his surgery — but sat out Thursday, a light day in his rehabilitation. The Jets have 21 days to activate Rodgers from the injured reserve list or he'll be sidelined the rest of the season.

    The latter is not an option in Rodgers' mind right now.

    "Nobody said, 'You can do this,'" he said. "And I basically just said, 'Stop me from hurting myself, but I'm going to push this as far as I can and when we push it to the edge, we'll stop.'"

    He said he's not yet close to being able to play and acknowledged he won't be 100% healthy if he returns less than four months after surgery. He added it "wouldn't make sense" to rush his return if the Jets (4-7) are out of the playoff hunt.

    "It would be a risk for myself, for the team to sign off on," Rodgers said. "If we're out of it, I would be surprised if they would OK that to come back."

    But he also left open the door to be back under center before his initial goal of Dec. 24 against Washington, saying he plans to ramp up his practice activities next week.

    "I think anything's possible," Rodgers said.

    He said he needs to make it through consecutive practices and acknowledged the risks of playing and the potential of reinjuring the Achilles tendon. He said in that worst-case scenario, he would do a slower rehabilitation in the offseason than the current program that's geared toward him getting on the field again this season.

    "So in my opinion, there's not like a downside to coming back and, you know, reinjuring it," Rodgers said.

    Rodgers, who turns 40 on Saturday, is on track to potentially have the quickest known comeback from a torn Achilles tendon among professional athletes.

    "I don't feel like I'm competing against science when it comes to this rehab," Rodgers said. "I'm competing against conventional rehab protocol. But until someone breaks that protocol and shows you can do it a different way, you know, the impossible stays the impossible."

    Rodgers had a "speed bridge" procedure that's designed to expedite the recovery process for an Achilles tendon injury. He attributes his progress to working hard in rehab and a strict diet: "High levels of curcumin, high levels of collagen and drinking freakin' bone broth every single day."

    He also acknowledged he's a unique case study because of the resources available to him.

    "My job from sun up to sundown was driving to rehab in the morning, four hours-plus there," he said. "And then going home and doing more rehab at the house."

    Rodgers did the bulk of his rehabilitation in the Los Angeles area, where he was joined by 24-year-old Baltimore running back J.K. Dobbins, who also tore an Achilles tendon in the Ravens' season opener.

    "Like, J.K. is thinking about next year," Rodgers said. "And I'm old and I didn't feel like I had the luxury to think about next year. I wanted to come back this year and play."

    Rodgers said he would hit different benchmarks throughout the rehab process, get an ultrasound of his Achilles tendon and then doctors would approve the next step. He even amazed some of the medical professionals along the way.

    "The doctor said he'd never seen an Achilles in nine weeks like that," Rodgers said.

    Over the next few weeks, Rodgers said he needs to be able to move better in the pocket during practice.

    "Obviously, I can throw, I can drop back, I can do some things in the small circle, but I don't think I can protect myself as well as I'd like to this point," he said.

    Rodgers knows all eyes are on him and his recovery, and he hopes to be a resource to others who experience a similar injury. He already reached out to Dolphins linebacker Jaelan Phillips, who tore an Achilles tendon against the Jets last week.

    "Hopefully I can inspire some of those people who have gone through it to attack the rehab in the same way and that it's not like a death sentence," Rodgers said. "I'm doing this because it's all I know how to do is to compete."

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