Jets' Aaron Rodgers practices just 11 weeks after surgery

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- New York Jets quarterback Aaron Rodgers moved one step closer to an improbable early comeback as he returned to practice Wednesday on a limited basis -- exactly 11 weeks after surgery to repair a torn Achilles.

Rodgers was cleared for "functional football activity" but not contact, according to coach Robert Saleh, who called this "a progression in his rehab." Saleh said it's too soon to say whether Rodgers will play again this season.

By rule, the Jets have 21 days to decide whether to activate Rodgers from injured reserve. The period expires Dec. 20, four days before they face the Washington Commanders -- the game he's targeting for a return.

On a 36-degree afternoon, Rodgers, wearing a red quarterback jersey, participated in a series of quarterback drills during the open portion of practice -- relatively light work. He did dropbacks, threw passes to receivers (without defenders) and jogged lightly between periods to different areas of the field. Understandably, his footwork wasn't as aggressive as the other quarterbacks'.

The four-time MVP was in an unusual position -- the fourth quarterback in a four-man rotation for drills. He wasn't scheduled to participate in 11-on-11 drills. Media weren't allowed to take photos or video during the quarterback drills; typically, they're permitted to do so during that portion of practice.

Saleh said "there's no added risk" to having Rodgers participate in this fashion. He was cleared by team doctors and Los Angeles-based surgeon Neal ElAttrache, who is monitoring Rodgers' rehab from afar. Rodgers has a detailed regimen that will intensify each week, leading to the ultimate decision on whether he will be activated.

"I think it's remarkable what he's doing, but he's also smart," Saleh said.

Rodgers, who turns 40 on Saturday, is recovering at an extraordinary pace, but this doesn't mean he's a lock to play. Saleh said the team is "so far away" from having to make that decision.

No NFL player has returned from Achilles surgery before the five-month mark. Rodgers will be 3½ months removed from surgery Dec. 24, when the Jets play the Commanders.

On Tuesday, Rodgers told "The Pat McAfee Show" his decision to return will be based on two factors: his health and the team's standing in the playoff race. The Jets (4-7), losers of four straight, will need a miracle to make the postseason. Rodgers said he'd like the team to be "alive," but that covers a lot of ground.

Saleh said Rodgers will play if he wants to play, contingent upon being cleared by doctors.

"Is there a motivation to be the first to ever do it? Sure," Saleh said. "That's OK. That's his why.

"I think he's sacrificed so much already for the organization and himself and his teammates, and he's doing it again. I think it is a testament to who he is as a human. Obviously, there's a little bit of that drive where he wants to prove that it could be done faster than anyone has ever done it before. That's just part of his mental makeup. I think he still runs with a chip on his shoulder."

Rodgers, acquired in an offseason trade with the Green Bay Packers, was injured on the fourth play of the season. He was replaced by Zach Wilson, who started the next nine games before being benched in favor of journeyman Tim Boyle. Boyle will make his second start Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons.

After rehabbing in Los Angeles, Rodgers returned to the team this week on a full-time basis. Teammates are marveling at his recovery.

"This sport has a 100% injury rate, so there's a chance that could happen," linebacker C.J. Mosley said, referring to a reinjury. "But there's a chance we could witness something that has never been done before."

From the outset, Rodgers said his plan was to shock the world.

"Give me your doubts, give me your prognostications and then watch what I do," Rodgers said two days after his surgery, adding that he would "shock a lot of people" based on his ambitious rehab program.

Wide receiver Allen Lazard, who played with him in Green Bay, wasn't surprised that Rodgers made it to the practice field this quickly.

"Science rules," Lazard said, smiling.

"I think being around him for the time that I've been around him, knowing his mindset -- more so his stubbornness just to kind of prove everyone else wrong -- it's very on brand," he added.

Boyle, another former Packers teammate, said Rodgers brings a lot of wisdom and confidence to the quarterback room.

"He makes me think at the next level, which I really appreciate," Boyle said.

Defensive end John Franklin-Myers said Rodgers' presence on the practice field was a source on inspiration.

"An Achilles [injury] is something that you just don't want to play with, and a guy like that to be 40-years-old and rehabbing as hard as he has and putting the time and effort, it's definitely motivating for the team," Franklin-Myers said.