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Analysis: Aaron Rodgers' recovery sets new standard for players who tear Achilles tendon

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Aaron Rodgers defied conventional medicine by returning to practice just 77 days after surgery for a torn Achilles tendon.

How he did it should be the No. 1 question instead of questioning his motivation.

Even if Rodgers doesn’t play again for the New York Jets (4-7) this season because it wouldn’t make sense if they’re eliminated from the playoff race, his recovery so far sets a standard. Every player who tears an Achilles tendon should call Rodgers and ask him about his surgical procedure, how he rehabilitated, what he ate and drank. No question is a stupid one.

Rodgers had a “speed bridge” procedure that’s designed to expedite the recovery process. He said Thursday he attributes his progress to working hard in rehab and a strict diet.

"It is remarkable how quickly he has recovered from his surgery,” said Dr. Peter DeLuca, chief of sports medicine at Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center who spent more than 20 years as the team physician for the Philadelphia Eagles and Philadelphia Flyers. “The type of repair he had with the ‘speed bridge’ has allowed him to participate in an accelerated rehabilitation program. It is obvious that Aaron has worked very hard in his rehab. I am sure during this recovery process, the medical staff has closely monitored the repair site to make sure it is not stretching out. The goals of rehab are to get full range of motion and strength back without compromising the repair.”

The soon-to-be 40-year-old Rodgers may have cracked the code for an injury that’s typically season-ending and normally takes players at least nine months to recover. No professional athlete is known to have returned from it in less than five months.

Former Rams running back Cam Akers tore an Achilles tendon in late July 2021, was cleared to practice on Dec. 21 and came back for the final regular-season game on Jan. 9, 2022. Akers had 67 carries for 172 yards in four playoff games, including a Super Bowl victory.

Rodgers didn’t rule out returning before his initial goal of Dec. 24. The Jets need to cooperate and win some games. If he comes back, he’d beat Akers by two months.

Based on seeing Rodgers throw at practice on television, DeLuca, who isn't involved in Rodgers' treatment, still thinks it’s a longshot the four-time NFL MVP plays this season.

“He has come a long way and faster along than most people after an Achilles tendon repair, but from what I see on TV, he is a long way from playing professional football,” DeLuca said. "I truly believe he won’t return unless his surgeon feels that he is at minimum risk for reinjury and the Jets are in the playoffs.”

Proving people wrong has pushed Rodgers. He’s admitted that’s part of “ his why,” as Jets coach Robert Saleh called it.

But critics have attacked Rodgers’ desire to return, saying he’s selfish and craves attention.

The same critics who are quick to point out when a player is slacking or isn’t doing enough to earn a huge salary suddenly are going after a guy who works hard to get back on the field as quickly as possible.

Rodgers also was fueled by his age and love for competition. He knows he’s at the back end of his career. He came to New York to turn a losing franchise into a winner before he runs out of time.

“I think he’s sacrificed so much already for the organization and himself and his teammates and he’s doing it again,” Saleh said. “I think it’s a testament to who he is as a human. Yeah, obviously, there’s a little bit of that drive where he wants to prove that it can be done faster than anyone’s ever done before. That’s OK. That is just part of his mental makeup. I think he still runs with a chip on his shoulder and that’s the way he lives his life where he always wants to prove people wrong, in terms of, doubting him and he’s a special human."

In an era of self-promotion on social media where going viral with a “hot take” is a bigger priority than providing substance for some analysts and broadcasters, Rodgers was even criticized for being on the sideline with his team throughout the season, even though backup quarterback Zach Wilson and others have pointed out having him around is helpful.

“I think the cool thing about Aaron is he brings so much wisdom and perspective to the quarterback room,” said Tim Boyle, who replaced the ineffective Wilson as the starter. “Trevor (Siemian) obviously has been around for a while and Zach’s played his fair share of football, too. But, you know, Aaron . ... he just brings so much wisdom and confidence. He asks the tough questions in the quarterback room trying to make me think at the next level, which I really appreciate.”

If Rodgers took his $37.5 million and disappeared to California after his surgery, he would’ve been destroyed by the media. He stuck around to be a good teammate and still hears it from the haters.

He must be doing something right.

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AP Pro Football Writer Dennis Waszak contributed to this report.

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AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl

Rob Maaddi, The Associated Press