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Jets begin Aaron Rodgers' 21-day practice window in next step in recovery from torn Achilles tendon

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. (AP) — Aaron Rodgers' improbable comeback from a torn Achilles tendon has taken the next step.

The New York Jets opened the 21-day practice window for the quarterback on Wednesday — exactly 11 weeks after he had surgery — with Rodgers cleared for some football activities.

Coach Robert Saleh said the four-time NFL MVP, who turns 40 on Saturday, will be limited at practice — as he was listed on the team's injury report — and is not cleared for contact. Saleh said there's “no added risk” in taking this step, emphasizing it's not necessarily a signal that Rodgers will play again this season as much as it is the next part of the quarterback's rehabilitation process.

“Instead of throwing with staff members," Saleh said, "he's throwing with teammates.”

At the end of the 21-day period, the Jets will have to make a decision whether to activate him or he'll spend the rest of this season on injured reserve. That period will expire on Dec. 20, which is four days before the Jets' home game against the Washington Commanders.

"We're not there yet," Saleh said. "A lot of guys coming off (injured reserve) are usually not ready to play football. There's usually still a little bit of a health concern there. So you use these 21-day windows to see where they're at.

“We're so far away from that. But the mindset for this is more of a progression in his rehab. He's been cleared for functional football activity. He's not cleared to fully play football.”

During the early portion of practice open to reporters, Rodgers walked onto the field in his red No. 8 noncontact jersey during warmups and embraced left tackle Mekhi Becton in the trainers' area. Rodgers found his way to the quarterbacks group during individual drills, tossed some short passes and took a few dropbacks.

“Science rules,” wide receiver Allen Lazard said with a laugh. “Being around him the time I've been around him, knowing his mindset — more so his stubbornness — just to kind of prove everyone else wrong, it's very on brand.”

Rodgers tore his Achilles tendon four snaps into his debut with the Jets on Sept. 11 and had surgery two days later. The operation included a “speed bridge” procedure, which helps expedite the healing process. Rodgers has been progressing quickly in his rehabilitation and is still aiming to make an unprecedented quick return to the field.

"I think it's sooner than anybody (anticipated)," Saleh said. “I think it's a credit to him. I know we're getting caught up in trying to create a narrative around him, but the true narrative is he's old-school in the sense he is driven. Is there motivation to be the first to ever do it? Sure, but that's OK. That's his ‘why’ — that's why he's (doing it).” ...

“He loves this organization, he wants to be with his teammates, he wants to be here.”

But Rodgers acknowledged Tuesday during his weekly appearance on “The Pat McAfee Show” that the factors in him returning to play this season are two-fold. The doctors must clear Rodgers — and the Jets must be in the AFC playoff hunt.

“It’s always been, first, am I healthy?" Rodgers said. "Then, are we alive? Are we in it? Are we playing good enough to make a run? Can I step in and protect myself and play at the level that I’m capable of playing? But it’s health first and are we alive for the playoffs, second.”

The Jets (4-7) have lost four in a row and host the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. Tim Boyle will make his second start in a row at quarterback in place of the benched Zach Wilson, who took over when Rodgers went down.

Some fans, media and even medical professionals have wondered if Rodgers is perhaps rushing to come back too soon and risk re-injury. Running back Cam Akers, then with the Los Angeles Rams, set the benchmark for returns from a torn Achilles tendon during the 2021 season when he played just five months after being injured and helped the team during its run to the Super Bowl.

Rodgers could beat that by several weeks if he comes back this season.

“I promise Aaron is not going to do anything that puts himself in harm’s way if he's not healthy to play,” Saleh said. "Aaron is very, very smart. That’s not something he’s going to put himself at risk for. With that said, though, he is driven. He is achieving things that have never been achieved with regards to this injury and it’s the progression with regard to rehab he’s on.

“And I think it’s remarkable what he is doing, but he is also smart in regards to how fast it's going.”

NOTES: Special teams ace Justin Hardee (hamstring) and offensive lineman Wes Schweitzer (calf) also had their 21-day practice windows opened. They were both limited. ... RB Breece Hall was limited with a hamstring issue. Also among the players limited at practice were LT Mekhi Becton (ankle/knee), CB Michael Carter II (hamstring), DL Will McDonald (shoulder) and OL Billy Turner (finger). ... Rookie RB Israel Abanikanda sat out with an illness. ... Saleh expects the struggling Lazard, benched last week, to play against Atlanta. Lazard said he was “a little caught off guard,” but spoke to the coach and “I can see his reasoning for it and everything.”

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