The energy became deflated once Aaron Rodgers went down in the first offensive drive for the New York Jets. It immediately picked back up on the final clinching play inside MetLife Stadium courtesy of undrafted rookie Xavier Gipson.
From his own 35-yard line, and with the game extended into overtime, Gipson trekked right before shifting left, slipping past his first arm tackler. From there, he had as many as four white uniformed players form an alley for him…leading to the overtime walkoff punt return touchdown to win 22-16.
An undrafted rookie OT walkoff❕
— Pro Football Network (@PFN365) September 12, 2023
Gipson, though, said afterwards that play would’ve never been made possible if it weren’t for some facial motivation from a fallen teammate.
How Aaron Rodgers Inspired the Undrafted, Underdog Wide Receiver Xavier Gipson
The mood inside the new Meadowlands went from loud and boisterous once the sight of No. 8 ran onto the field to a deafening silence beginning at the 11:20 mark of the opening quarter, which was again during Rodgers’ first drive in a Jets helmet and uniform.
Hearts continued to sink for the “Take Flight” crowd at the sight of Rodgers going from the blue tent to the medical cart. Super Bowl odds began to drop for the Jets by SportsLine. Analyst Warren Sharp even demanded that the league alters the Jets’ prime-time schedule following the injury.
we cannot watch Primetime Zach Wilson in 5 more stand-alone games
something must be done about this pic.twitter.com/HpxjEi6Zgm
— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) September 12, 2023
Rodgers, though, found a way to impact his rookie teammate during halftime as Gipson told ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Lisa Salters postgame.
“The energy kind of got low,” Gipson admitted. “But once we got into the locker room, he didn’t show no signs of disappointment.”
From there, the former Football Championship Subdivision star from Stephen F. Austin Gipson detailed the next scene — the one that gave him all the motivation he needed from “A-Rod.”
“He game me a look,” Gipson said. “I looked him in the eyes, and he gave me a look. And in my mind, I’m thinking, ‘Let’s win this game for A-Rod.'”
From undrafted to the game-winning TD.
— NFL (@NFL) September 12, 2023
Wideout’s Highlighted Journey to the League Now Adds Game-Winning TD
Before his 65-yard touchdown to start the Jets at 1-0, Gipson had his journey to the NFL chronicled by HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”
He ended up with one of the more emotional moments on the show: Meeting with head coach Robert Saleh and Jets general manager Joe Douglas to learn about his roster fate. Gipson began the meeting with all smiles and saying “I’m feeling pretty good.”
The GM Douglas then mentioned how the odds were stacked against Gipson “from the jump,” but stated how he did a lot of good things in training camp.
The moment Douglas told him he was a New York Jet, Gipson put his head down and smiled. That was when Saleh made this stirring prediction:
“You’re going to do a lot of good things for us this year,” he told the rookie. “You got something to you with the way you approach the game with your intent, your mindset and all that stuff. There’s no doubt in our mind that you’re going to maximize who you are. You’re definitely one of us.”
— NFL (@NFL) September 5, 2023
Gipson reflected back on that fateful meeting that eventually led to his heroic night when Salters asked about what his journey meant to him.
“A lot,” he began. “I spoke to them about that in the meeting room and I said I’m going to go hard just for them, not for me. So it was personal.”
On a night the world saw a look of concern from anyone wearing Jets colors, it was one look from their fallen leader that got an unlikely gamebreaker to bring that energy back up.