Losing Aaron Rodgers just four plays into his anticipated Jets debut was a tragic way for New York's 2023 season to begin (and/or end). But an added layer of drama came from the fact the Jets have been battling big-name turmoil for decades. Between Bill Belichick spurning them and Vinny Testaverde also suffering a Week 1 Achilles injury back in 1999, there's enough evidence for Gang Green fans to believe since winning it all in the Joe Namath era.
But what if we narrow it down to Opening Day quarterbacks? Part of the reason Rodgers drew so much hype is because he was supposed to bring a long-awaited end to the rotation of flailing signal-callers in New York. But has the Jets' recent history under center actually been that bad? Let's review all of the team's Week 1 starters of the last 20 years, regrading each:
Aaron Rodgers (2023)
The "beautiful dream" that ended before it could begin. We can't say yet that Rodgers is done for good, but his years-in-the-making split from Green Bay resulted in all of four snaps with the Jets, and he could barely get a throw off behind a porous O-line. A comeback is possible, but he'll be 40 coming off an Achilles tear, and who knows whether the staff and setup will be the same?
Zach Wilson (2021-2022)
Technically Wilson was inactive due to injury to open his second season, with Joe Flacco filling in, but he logged 22 starts in his first two years after going No. 2 overall out of BYU. He showcased his mobility, but that was about it, guiding an 8-14 record while struggling to complete 55 percent of his passes as the Jets increasingly tried masking him with a run-first approach. Fans and players alike celebrated when he was demoted for backup Mike White, then replaced by Rodgers between Years 2-3. He does, however, have a chance for redemption, reclaiming the top job with an elite defense now that A-Rod is out.
Sam Darnold (2018-2020)
Drafted No. 3 overall out of USC, Darnold's first start was a 48-17 prime-time victory, but it was almost all downhill from there. He missed at least three starts due to injury in all three of his Jets seasons, and when he was on the field, he struggled with forced throws, totaling 39 interceptions in 38 games en route to a 13-25 record. Just three years after making him their face of the franchise, the Jets spent another top three pick on Wilson, shipping Darnold off to an ill-fated stint with the Panthers.
Josh McCown (2017)
After gritty backup stops with the Bears, Buccaneers and Browns, McCown beat out former second-rounder Christian Hackenberg at age 38, and proceeded to post career highs in passing yardage (2,926), TDs (18) and completion percentage (67.3). He also threw nine picks and absorbed 39 sacks, however, failing to keep New York above .500 before an injury cut his year short. His 86.1 season passer rating stands as the best by any Week 1 Jets QB of the last decade.
Ryan Fitzpatrick (2015-2016)
Acquired in a minor trade with the Texans, the ex-Bills gunslinger got a surprise Week 1 nod after regular starter Geno Smith suffered a broken jaw in an altercation with a teammate (par for the course in New York!), and he never looked back. While the bearded fan favorite never prided himself on ball control, completing just 58.3 percent of his throws for the Jets, he also helped wideout Brandon Marshall to a career year in his improbable 2015 run, throwing for a franchise-record 31 TDs to go 10-6. His gung-ho approach came back to Earth the next year, when he threw 12 TDs to 17 picks in a 3-8 stretch.
Geno Smith (2013-2014)
A second-round pick out of West Virginia, Smith opened his rookie year in place of an injured Mark Sanchez, who insisted he'd "won" their summer competition. Amid a rebuilding supporting cast, he flashed as a scrambler but had major turnover issues, throwing 21 picks in his first 16 games, and went just 3-10 the following year. He would go on to start just two more games -- one for the Jets, one for the Giants -- over the ensuing six years, before emerging as a surprise breakout with the Seahawks in 2022.
Mark Sanchez (2009-2012)
Quickly tabbed "The Sanchize" after arriving as the No. 5 overall pick out of USC, Sanchez enjoyed the luxuries of a sturdy line and elite defense -- headlined by shutdown corner Darrelle Revis -- to reach two AFC title games in his first two years. His production, however, left a lot to be desired, as he completed just 55 percent of his throws, with 69 picks and 20 fumbles, over four seasons. His entire 2013 campaign was wiped out due to injury before he accepted backup jobs in Philly, Dallas, Chicago and Washington.
Brett Favre (2008)
Long before Rodgers ended a Hall of Fame Packers run with a relocation to the Big Apple, Favre did it first, teasing retirement before orchestrating a trade to the Jets. His trademark risk-taking was all there, keeping New York in the wild-card mix at 9-7, but in between shoulder issues at age 39, he was mostly mercurial, finishing with 22 TDs to an NFL-leading 22 INTs. After just one year, he called it quits, "retiring" again only to resurface with the Vikings, where he rebounded with an improbable NFC title bid.
Chad Pennington (2000-2007)
Drafted 18th overall out of Marshall, Pennington is easily the most celebrated of any Jets QB on this list, save for the hype Rodgers received this offseason. He was a plucky fan favorite, in part for his repeated return from serious injuries. But therein lies the issue: While he had three stretches with a winning record as a Jets starter, notably leading the NFL in completion percentage (68.9) and QB rating (104.2) with an efficient 2002, he never once played a full season, finishing barely above .500 (32-29), with a 2-3 playoff mark, before his 2008 release. It's only fitting, considering the Jets' history, that he would go on to post maybe the best season of his career -- logging an 11-5 record, a Comeback Player of the Year nod and MVP consideration -- for the rival Dolphins.