Aaron Rodgers was walking without crutches and ahead of the Jets' Week 6 upset of the Eagles. It was the clearest sign yet that the quarterback is on an unprecedented timeline in his recovery from an Achilles tear, according to CBS Sports HQ injury expert Marty Jaramillo, who believes Rodgers is "absolutely" on pace to return this season.
"He's moving almost three times as fast as traditional protocols," Jaramillo told CBSSports.com Monday. "No boot, no crutches, minimal limp. It's quite exponential. There is no precedent for this type of recovery following an Achilles tear. He is beating back Father Time."
Specifically, Jaramillo estimates Rodgers could be fully ready to play 12-14 weeks after surgery, which would mean a return to the lineup as early as Week 15, when the Jets visit the Dolphins on Dec. 17. Crazy? Jaramillo has his own doubts, but he's "happy to be wrong," as Rodgers' current rehab suggests he'll be: "By Month 4 or even 3 at this pace -- or shall we say at a Rodgers pace -- he would be at the equivalent of Month 9 or 10 of traditional healing."
The longtime Packers star suffered his torn Achilles four snaps into his highly anticipated Jets debut on Sept. 11, then had surgery two days later. Even a four-month recovery timeline -- still unprecedented -- would set the return for mid-January, during the first round of the 2023 playoffs, though that would depend on the Jets (3-3) advancing to the postseason.
How, exactly, is Rodgers moving so quickly? Jaramillo points primarily to the "speed bridge" technique used to accelerate recovery, which allows for early weight-bearing. It's a fairly new procedure that few surgeons are trained to perform, he said, and Rodgers' surgeon, Dr. Neil ElAttrache, a close colleague of Jaramillo's, is "quite the pioneer in sports medicine." He notably repaired Tom Brady's torn ACL in 2008, and the former Patriots QB "only got better," appearing in five more Super Bowls before retiring at 45.
Jaramillo's reservations about Rodgers' unprecedented recovery stem from a historical comparison. He notes that decades ago, there was a strong movement toward accelerated ACL rehab, and the "long-term results proved quite disappointing, with a significant amount of ACL failures and stretching of graft." The medical community is now "back to conservative ACL rehab" with typical recovery timelines of nine to 12 months. Still, he's confident Rodgers' camp is "letting him do this safely."
As for Rodgers himself, the QB has said repeatedly he isn't ruling out a return to the field this season, despite Achilles tears typically also requiring nine to 12 months of rehab.
"It's pretty obvious I'm well ahead of the normal protocols when it comes to rehab for this kind of thing, but that was always what my mindset was," he previously told "The Pat McAfee Show." "[We're] being as smart as possible, not trying to stretch the Achilles but stretch the Achilles in a way that allows me to start doing movement quicker and to speed up whatever timeline has kind of been the standard for this type of injury."