Aaron Rodgers #8 of the New York Jets is sacked...

Aaron Rodgers #8 of the New York Jets is sacked during the first quarter by Leonard Floyd #56 of the Buffalo Bills at MetLife Stadium on Monday, Sep. 11, 2023 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. Credit: Jim McIsaac

Aaron Rodgers has done all he can. Now it’s up to the Jets.

Rodgers is back with the team, taking part in practice and pushing to play again this season. That seemed improbable, if not impossible, when he tore his left Achilles tendon four offensive snaps into the Jets’ season on Sept. 11.

 The future Hall of Fame quarterback still has some hurdles to clear, but the biggest obstacle in his path is the Jets.

There likely will be no historic Rodgers return later this month if they don’t win some games. A loss to the Falcons on Sunday at MetLife Stadium would be devastating for the Jets’ already dim playoff hopes and Rodgers’ chances of playing again this season.

Playoffs? This team? Yes. Even though they’re 4-7 and sit in next-to-last place in the AFC, the Jets are alive. As long as they are, Rodgers’ dream of playing again is, too. That makes Sunday's game even more of a must-win.

“It would be amazing to go on a streak right here and he comes back,” tight end Tyler Conklin told Newsday. “It would be amazing. The media would love it, the world would love it. It’d be great. Hopefully that’s what happens, but we got to get it going and win this one first.”

Rodgers saying it will be “disappointing if we weren’t alive and I wasn’t able to come back” puts it squarely on the players and coaches to stay in the race.

“Hopefully we can find it inside of us the next few weeks and keep this thing alive,” Rodgers said.

Robert Saleh conceded “it’s almost sudden death” when referring to the Jets’ playoff odds. He said Rodgers’ immediate future doesn’t and shouldn’t change anyone’s approach.

The reality is the Jets just need a win — and badly — for themselves. They have lost four consecutive games by a total of 72 points and are coming off back-to-back humiliating losses to Buffalo and Miami by a combined 47 points. The Jets have struggled offensively all season, but their defense has shown cracks lately,  too.

Rodgers considers Dec. 24 against Washington as a realistic first game back, although he didn’t rule out an earlier return. After Atlanta, the Jets host the Texans and then play in Miami. If the Jets don’t go 3-0 or at least 2-1, Rodgers’ next NFL action could come in September.

“I want to win no matter what,” Conklin said. “Does it add more pressure or more of a want-to? I don’t think so. The want-to-win is a such a want.”

That’s universal throughout the locker room.

“We’re trying to win football games,” quarterback Tim Boyle said. “If that’s a byproduct of us winning football games, I’m happy for [Rodgers]. But I don’t think it adds a level of pressure, stress. We’re trying to win every football game we play in. Hopefully we can keep him in contention.”

Defensive end John Franklin-Myers said “no more or no less” when asked how much he wants to win so Rodgers can play.

Running back Breece Hall said, “Most of our guys are self-motivated and we’re motivated by the guy next to us. I feel like we all motivate each other.”

The Jets felt they had a good week coming off the Black Friday beating they took from Miami. It started with Saleh challenging the players and coaches in a team meeting Monday.

“Excited to see the product we put on the field,” Franklin-Myers said.

Having Rodgers on the field, in the building and in meetings could have an impact on the Jets' wretched offense. He gave his input in the quarterback room and walk-throughs and had his teammates’ attention.

“His superpower is not necessarily how he throws a football or how he runs an offense,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “It’s how he is with the team, how he approaches everyone, how he pushes everyone just with his presence.”

The Jets hope Rodgers has a positive effect on Boyle, who struggled last week in his first start in nearly two years. Boyle threw for 179 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions and was sacked seven times. He also underthrew the Hail Mary that Jevon Holland intercepted and returned for a 99-yard touchdown to end the first half.

The Falcons (5-6) lead the NFC South, and a key will be how the Jets defend against their running game.  The Jets are 31st in run defense, allowing 140.3 yards per game. Atlanta, led by explosive rookie running back Bijan Robinson, is fourth in rushing offense (139.3).

The Falcons don’t have Miami’s pass rush, but they mix up their fronts and are good in coverage. Atlanta ranks 14th in total defense and points allowed and is a top 10 pass defense. It will be another tough challenge for a Jets offense that is averaging 9.3 points during this losing skid.

“I want to see us run the ball well,” Boyle said. “I want to see us take some shots. It’s going to be a fun one.”

With Tom Rock

ATLANTA FALCONS (5-6) AT NEW YORK JETS (4-7) 

VITALS

Line: Falcons by 1.5; O/U 33.5

TV: FOX (Kenny Albert, Jonathan Vilma).

Radio: ESPN-98.7 FM (Bob Wischusen, Marty Lyons); Sirius XM 81 or 226.

All-time series: Falcons lead, 8-5 (Falcons have won 4 of last 5).

Last meeting: Oct. 10, 2021, Falcons 27, Jets 20 (in London).

KEY INJURIES

Jets: OUT: QB Aaron Rodgers (Achilles), Kenny Yeboah (hamstring); QUESTIONABLE: RB Breece Hall (hamstring), RB Dalvin Cook (shoulder), RB Izzy Abanikanda (illness), OL Wes Schweitzer (calf). Falcons: QUESTIONABLE: WR Mack Hollins (ankle); DB Mike Hughes (hand).

DEFENSE CAN’T REST

The Jets’ defense appears to be wearing down. The unit has been on the field 67.3 snaps per game — fourth most in the league. The Jets have given up 788 yards and 59 points the last two games. Both statistics are the highest of any two-game stretch for them this season.

The Jets also have allowed 53 points and six TDs after halftime during this four-game losing streak. They gave up 36 second-half points and two TDs in the first seven games.

Defensive coordinator Jeff Ulbrich said he doesn’t feel there’s been “a lack of effort, finish, physicality, I haven’t seen that on tape.”

COLD DECEMBER

Robert Saleh is 1-7 in December as Jets coach. He lost all four December games last year. Saleh is even colder in January — he’s winless in four games.

SACK EXCHANGE

Jets quarterbacks have been sacked 23 times over the last four games, the second highest in the NFL behind the Giants (25) over that span. The Falcons have 22 sacks all season.

QUOTABLE

“He’s a young explosive back. It’s fun watching him on film. Anytime he gets hit he fights like a gator, rolling around trying to get every single yard. You love it as a competitor.”

— Jets LB C.J. Mosley on Falcons rookie RB Bijan Thompson

NUMBER, PLEASE

2.6: Breece Hall’s yards per carry over the last six games. He averaged 7.2 yards over the first five games.

— AL IANNAZZONE

More Jets

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