While Saleh’s players are apparently buying in, J.J. Watt, a future Hall of Fame defensive lineman and studio analyst on “NFL Today,” isn’t totally sold. Without Rodgers, Watt feels that the 2023 Jets’ narrative might be the same one New York had in 2022, especially late in the year.
“The Jets are 100 percent going to be riding that defense,” Watt said during an interview with CBS Sports. “I don’t think they’re a Super Bowl contender anymore, but who knows, I could be wrong.”
Watt was impressed from what he saw from Gang Green on Monday night. Despite losing Rodgers and falling behind by double digits, the Jets clawed back and pulled out a 22-16 win over the Bills in overtime. The Jets’ defense forced four turnovers that led to 13 points, while rookie Xavier Gipson won the game with his 65-yard punt return for a score in overtime.
The comeback came after the shock of watching Rodgers, a four-time league MVP who had thrown one pass before getting hurt, limp off into the locker room.
“It’s horrible to see that happen, not only for Aaron but for the Jets and for the whole league,” Watt said of Rodgers’ season-ending Achilles injury. “You want to see the best players out there playing at their best, so that really sucked. But I think their reaction in that game tells you a lot about the Jets.
“First of all, we all know they have an incredible defense, and their defense obviously carried them in that game and they’re going to have to carry them the whole season. But they way they responded against a division rival that has had some success against them, it’s telling.”
Watt feels that Saleh is guiding the Jets in the right direction in his third season in New York. After presiding over a top-notch defense in San Francisco, Saleh is leading a similarly tough unit in the Big Apple, led by defensive tackle Quinnen Williams, cornerback Sauce Gardner, linebacker C.J. Mosley and safety Jordan Whitehead, who had three picks in Monday night’s win.
While the defense might be elite, Watt wonders if the Jets’ offense can carry its weight without Rodgers. It’ll likely come down to whether or not Zach Wilson can do a good enough job in Rodgers’ absence. Wilson got off to a good start on Monday; he went 14 of 21 that included his game-tying touchdown pass to Garrett Wilson to force overtime.
“I still think it’s going to be very tough,” Watt said. ‘You have to have a quarterback in this league that can do the job well. Zach did the job well on Monday night. Let’s see how much he’s grown and matured and if he can really help that defense out.”
Regardless of how well Wilson and the rest of the Jets’ offense performs, Watt feels that New York’s defense will have to play at an almost superhuman level if New York is going to have a shot at playing in its first Super Bowl in 55 years. And while that may sound like a pretty enormous burden, Watt offered a different perspective while offering insight into the mind of a three-time Defensive Player of the Year.
“Yeah, but you live for that,” he said. “As a defender, you live for that pressure. You love that. You want it to be on you. You want to have to go out there, and if you can score points, take the ball away and give it to your offense. There’s times when your defense is so good that you’re like, I kind of hope the offense goes three and out so you can go out there and play a little bit.”
This fall, Watt has teamed up with Miller Lite and its new campaign where consumers will have a chance to win an autographed jersey signed by Watt and 99 bottles of Miller Light. The campaign includes Watt singing a slightly different version of the classic “99 Bottles of Beer” song.
“You have to be pretty confident to be able to sound that bad on national television for a commercial,” Watt said while smiling. “But it’s awesome. Miller Lite is such a natural partnership for me. I grew up in Wisconsin. My first-ever beer was a Miller Lite. So now, we have a chance to give 99 bottles away to 99 different fans. They cam make some memories with their friends and their family and really looking to it. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The ad includes a cameo by Watt’s wife and pro-soccer star, Kealia Watt.
“She makes the whole thing go,” Watt said. “Without her part there, it’s not as good as an ad. She crushes it out of the park. She makes the most of her screen time.”