Aaron Rodgers and his new team delivered record viewership numbers for their season opener Monday night and the New York Jets will remain prime-time players even without their star QB, though football fans may feel differently about tuning in going forward.
Rodgers’ ill-fated Jets debut — which ended after four plays when he suffered a season-ending torn Achilles tendon — averaged 22.6 million viewers on ESPN, ABC, ESPN2 and ESPN Deportes.
New York's 22-16 overtime victory over the Buffalo Bills was the most-watched Monday night game since ESPN took over the package in 2006. The audience peaked at 25.2 million between 9 p.m. and 9:15 p.m. EDT after Rodgers was injured.
The previous record was 21.8 million for a 2009 game that also featured Rodgers. That was Brett Favre’s return to Lambeau Field when Minnesota faced Green Bay.
It is a 14% increase over last year’s opener, when Russell Wilson’s Denver debut against his former team in Seattle averaged 19.8 million.
Due to Rodgers' arrival, the networks had the Jets as one of their most-requested teams when they put in their scheduling wish lists during the offseason.
The Jets have five more prime-time appearances scheduled, but two can be subbed out due to the league's flexible schedule rules. Those are the Nov. 12 "Sunday Night Football” game at Las Vegas on NBC and the Dec. 28 “Thursday Night Football” game at Cleveland on Amazon Prime Video.
The networks and the league are hoping Zach Wilson can step up and keep the Jets competitive.
“We’ve seen in this league a long history of players stepping up and new players emerging. It happens every year,” said Hans Schroeder, executive vice president of NFL Media. “You saw what happened last year with Brock Purdy and 20-plus years ago with (Tom) Brady in New England when (Drew) Bledsoe got hurt. There’s a lot of football ahead across the entire league. And we’re going to do what we always do, which is keep that focus on getting the best games in each of our windows every week as we move through the season."
NBC can't begin to flex Sunday night games until Week 5, meaning the Jets' Oct. 1 game against Kansas City will not be moved.
ESPN and Prime Video also get flexible scheduling options for the first time, but not until later in the season. The “Monday Night Football” flex option begins in Week 12, three weeks after the Jets host the Los Angeles Chargers on Nov. 6.
The Jets will also host Prime Video's first Black Friday game on Nov. 24 against Miami.
Marie Donoghue, Amazon’s vice president of global sports video, said that when the schedule was released its preference was to have the game in New York.
Prime's flex can only happen twice between Weeks 13 and 17, and has to be on 28 days' notice. ESPN and NBC (from Weeks 5-13) have up until 12 days before the scheduled games to make a decision. Starting in Week 14, NBC gets a six-day window.
The Jets also have four games in the Sunday afternoon window (4:25 p.m. ET), including this Sunday at Dallas on CBS.
“You really have to play your way onto the flex and the game has to go in a direction that we think it's worthy of taking off,” Schroeder said. “There’s a lot of variables and considerations that go into what that best game is, and it has to work on a number of levels.”
Four Sunday night games were flexed last season, tied with 2015 and 2018 for most in a year.
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Joe Reedy, The Associated Press