Aaron Rodgers tore his Achilles tendon Monday, an injury universally considered to be a season-ender in pretty much every major team sport.
The New York Jets quarterback apparently thinks he could be an exception.
Five days after sustaining the injury, Rodgers is targeting a return in time for the NFL playoffs after undergoing an innovative sort of surgery on his ankle, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport and Tom Pelissero.
The procedure was performed Wednesday by renowned orthopedic surgeon Dr. Neal ElAttrache, whose work you're familiar with if you've watched, say, Tom Brady, Kobe Bryant or Zack Greinke in the later stages of their careers. ElAttrache is reported to have placed an internal brace, called an Achilles "speed bridge," on Rodgers' full torn left Achilles.
An early return is by no means a guarantee, but the speed bridge apparently gives Rodgers a chance that simply didn't exist five years ago. Basically, the speed bridge enhances the strength of the repair and guards it against stretching, potentially allowing Rodgers to accelerate his rehab.
Rodgers himself didn't rule out the possibility of a playoff return during an appearance on "The Pat McAfee Show" on Friday, invoking a certain former Boston Celtics power forward:
"I'm not gonna make any of those statements. I don't feel like that's fair to myself ... I think, as Kevin Garnett said, 'Anything is possible!'"
Cam Akers is an encouraging precedent for Aaron Rodgers
We've already seen this sort of surgery before with Los Angeles Rams running back Cam Akers, who tore his Achilles in July 2021.
Previously thought to be out for the season, Akers was back on the Rams' active roster on Christmas of that year and returned to game action in January 2022, five-and-a-half months after the original injury. He played one regular season game, then posted 172 rushing yards in four games during the Rams' Super Bowl run.
As Yahoo Sports' Jeff Eisenberg wrote then, the brace helped Akers avoid strain on his Achilles tear as it healed:
What ElAttrache first did during surgery was to suture the ends of Akers’ tendon together in such a way that the tension matched the running back’s other Achilles. ElAttrache then installed what he called an “internal brace,” a second high-strength suture anchored into Akers’ heel bone. The purpose was to reduce the strain on the tear site while the tendon healed, preventing it from rupturing again or stretching out.
Akers didn't miss a single game due to injury last season either, missing only two games over a contract dispute. He became the Rams' bellcow down the stretch, carrying the ball 104 times in their final six games.
Of course, every patient is different, most notably in the fact that Akers was 22 years old at the time while Rodgers is currently 39 and will hit 40 in December. Akers' five-and-a-half-month timeline would also put Rodgers' return somewhere around the end of February, so the quarterback is actually attempting an even more aggressive recovery.
A lot of things clearly need to go right for Rodgers to even have a chance at playing football again this season, including the not-insignificant condition that the Jets need to actually make the playoffs with Zach Wilson under center. It could be considered a pipe dream, but one of those might work for the Jets someday.