Jets embracing the pressure that comes with their Super Bowl aspirations

Aaron Rodgers and Robert Saleh
Aaron Rodgers and Robert Saleh / Ed Mulholland - USA TODAY Sports

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The target’s there. It arrived the day the Jets officially acquired Aaron Rodgers. It grew exponentially with the Hard Knocks cameras, then a size or two more as players openly talked about their Super Bowl aspirations.

In 12 months, the Jets went from the NFL’s red-headed stepchild to the league’s bad boys. Every team on their schedule is frothing at the mouth, awaiting their chance to knock New York down to the peg they once called theirs.

And the Jets could not care less.

“If you can’t keep our names out of your mouth, it must mean we’re doing something good,” head coach Robert Saleh said.

The Jets deserve credit for not muzzling what they believe they can do. So many across the league are afraid to talk about what they want to accomplish. You hear about a countdown to the Super Bowl? That team is chastised, berated for its arrogance. The Jets have no time for that. They’re still taking things one day at a time, sure. They’re not looking past anyone or anything. They’re trusting the process to get them where they want to go.

But they didn’t go out and acquire a 38-year-old, future Hall of Fame signal-caller to simply make the playoffs. They plan to be in Las Vegas in February. They’re not hiding from that.

Inside the Jets’ building is a mural wall — one with enough room to highlight every game between now and Super Bowl 58. The first notable images will go up on Tuesday — one day after the Jets open the season against the Buffalo Bills. That’s when this journey really begins. It’s the first opportunity for the Jets to show they don’t just read well on paper or speak well in front of HBO’s cameras.

They are for real. They are a force. They deserve this hype placed upon them, even if received before playing a meaningful snap.

“I think a part of that is speaking things into existence,” Rodgers said. “The idea of manifestation. The other part of that is a realistic look at the locker room — knowing there are anywhere from 6-to-12 teams every year that can (win a Super Bowl) and we are one of those 6-to-12 teams.”

This season won’t be one without challenges. The seemingly endless string of backup quarterbacks the Jets faced last year are replaced by an absolute gauntlet. The Jets play the AFC West and NFC East. Their own division contains two teams with equally-high expectations (Buffalo and Miami), and one the Jets can’t ever seem to beat (New England). But maybe the most difficult thing the Jets will have to deal with is the number of their opponents out for blood.

Few, if any, took the Jets seriously in years past. They seemed like a joke toward the end of the Todd Bowles era and throughout Adam Gase’s regime. They took a two steps forward with Saleh in 2022, but still, their issues at quarterback overshadowed their dominance on defense. They were not feared.

As Saleh said on the finale of Hard Knocks: The Jets were the team so often praised for “playing hard” — a back-handed compliment at best, a straight-up slap in the face at worst. That’s no longer the case. The league’s little brother now believes they’re elite. That doesn’t usually sit well with big brothers.

The Jets used to sneak up on teams who looked past them. This year, they’ll be the hunted. Few on this roster have experienced that before in their NFL careers. They must handle it well if these expectations are to be reached.

It starts Monday night. The Bills are hungry, ready and certainly ticked off. There’s no doubt it’s not sitting well with them that, despite winning the division the last three years, Rodgers and the Jets are all anyone can talk about.

So be it. This is how the Jets want it.

If they’re as good as they think they are it won’t matter.

“I’ll tell you one thing: Ain’t nobody is a little brother on this team,” defensive end Jermaine Johnson said. “We’re not coming second to nobody. We look forward to every challenge every week.

“We look forward to accomplishing that and ending it with a win.”