Aaron Rodgers’ potential return just an ‘external motivator’ as Jets try to get back to winning

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The New York Jets’ playoff hopes could get a big boost with a victory Sunday.

Same for the chances of an improbable comeback attempt by Aaron Rodgers.

The Jets (4-7) are mired in a four-game skid that has them second-to-last in the AFC, ahead of only the division rival Patriots (2-9). They believe they can turn things around to make a late-season run, starting Sunday against the Falcons (5-6) — but the opportunities are dwindling.

“I feel like the playoffs are always from Week 1 all the way through,” coach Robert Saleh said Friday. “You can say it’s almost sudden death, I guess, but you always have to have the mindset to play every game like a championship game and train yourself to operate that way.

“If you’re waiting to rachet, to turn it up when it becomes life or death, you can say, it’s too late.”

Rodgers, meanwhile, is working his way back from a torn Achilles tendon and still intends to return this season — as long as doctors clear him to play and the Jets remain in the playoff hunt.

Those are two big ifs.

While the sight of the quarterback, who turns 40 on Saturday, throwing passes and dropping back on the practice field has inspired fans, his teammates and coaches, Saleh said Rodgers’ potential return shouldn’t necessarily add another layer of motivation for the team to win over the next few weeks.

“That’s an external motivator,” Saleh said. “We should already be motivated to be our best and that’s what we’re trying to train and a lot of young guys on that offensive side of the ball who are just head above water, with regards to scheme. To help them focus on the things that actually make scheme and football come to life is our style of play.

“So, as an external motivator, those are usually good for a slight push. But it can’t be how you live.”

Rodgers had his 21-day practice window started Wednesday and he was limited in his return. He sat out Thursday as part of a lighter day in his rehabilitation. He was limited again Friday and listed as out for Sunday’s game, as expected, but he said Thursday he would ramp up his activities next week to see where he’s at physically.

He has had his sights set on returning for the Jets’ home game against Washington on Dec. 24, but wouldn’t rule out a return before then.

“I think anything’s possible,” Rodgers said.

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But he also added that he wouldn’t be fully healthy less than four months since the surgery on Sept. 13 and would be surprised if the team signed off on him playing if the Jets are out of the playoff picture.

“Personally, I want to go about every week the same and that’s the reality in the back of our head, maybe,” wide receiver Garrett Wilson said, echoing Saleh’s comments. “My motivation comes from me wanting to be the best version of me.

“And I feel Aaron would say the same about himself.”

Rodgers and the Jets had Super Bowl expectations entering the season, but those were shattered when the quarterback went down just four snaps into his debut with New York. Now, the Jets have a 5.3% chance of simply making the postseason, according to FanDuel Sportsbook, and snapping the NFL’s longest playoff drought at 12 seasons.

“We’ve got to continue the same approach with regards to mindset and training ourselves to approach every moment like a championship moment,” Saleh said. “Our backs are up against a wall and we have to continue swinging.”

NOTES: RBs Breece Hall (hamstring), Dalvin Cook (shoulder) and Israel Abanikanda (illness) were all listed as questionable for the game. Hall was a full participant, while Cook and Abanikanda were limited. … OL Wes Schweitzer (calf) and TE Kenny Yeboah (hamstring) were also questionable.

Reporting by The Associated Press.

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