FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Josh Cribbs had hoped this day would come a week ago, just in time to face the team he despised when he was a star kick returner/receiver in the AFC North.
"I was trying to get here for that Pittsburgh game," the former Browns All-Pro kick returner said yesterday after signing with the injury-riddled Jets. "I was like, 'I kill Pittsburgh. You need me. I'm trying to tell you, I'm gonna do it for you.' I had some of my best games against Pittsburgh.' ''
The Jets could have used Cribbs against the Steelers on Sunday, but he'll at least get the chance to help out in an equally intense divisional game when the Jets face the Patriots in an important AFC East game at MetLife Stadium. It's a huge spot to step into for a guy who hasn't played all season, but the 30-year-old Cribbs thinks he can provide a much-needed spark.
"Whatever way I can be used to help electrify this team and add that oomph," Cribbs said. "I'm going to be that 'it' factor."
To refresh your memory about Cribbs, we take you back to his days in Cleveland, where he was one of the most dominant return men in NFL history. He's tied with former Jets returner Leon Washington for the most career kickoff-return touchdowns (eight) in NFL history. He owns Browns franchise records for most career kickoff- return yards (8,837), most combined kickoff- and punt-return yards (10,534) and most career all-purpose yards (12,343).
Great return man. Solid wide receiver. Two things the Jets can use now that they've been hit with season-ending injuries to running back/returner Mike Goodson and wide receiver/returner Clyde Gates. But Cribbs has something else he can offer the Jets: veteran savvy.
Now the question is: Will he match a big personality with the kind of speed and explosiveness that made him one of the most feared return men in the game? It's certainly worth a shot.
"This is like a rebirth for me," said Cribbs, who was released by the Raiders during the preseason because of knee problems. He said he is 100 percent healthy.
Actually, more than 100 percent. "110 percent, kind of 111 percent," Cribbs said. "I'm ready to be used any way they need me."
The Jets can use a guy like him right about now. In the return game and on offense, where the injury-depleted wide receiver corps also has been without Santonio Holmes because of a hamstring problem. It's a dream scenario for Cribbs, who wasn't sure if he'd get another chance to be back in the NFL.
But the dream never died, and Cribbs spent his time away from the game rehabbing his knee and working out on a neighborhood soccer field near his home in Cleveland. The field where he was asked to leave.
"I've been training hard, me and a friend of mine," he said. "I'd run down like I was the kickoff cover guy, and he'd do the same against me, lots of one-on- one. I'd use a high school field that they play soccer on, and actually got put off the field. They said, 'You can't play on it, y'all messing up my field.' I was trying to get work in, and they didn't know who I was." Cribbs then moved to another field.
"After seeing [NFL] football, I felt too regular, average," Cribbs said.
And now he's back, just in time for a big game against New England. Cribbs said he can see in coach Rex Ryan's eyes how badly he wants it.
"I see how important it is for the Jets to win," Cribbs said. "I can tell [Ryan] really wants this game. He was like, 'Rest your legs, go home, don't do nothing for your wife.' Say, 'Baby, next week. I'm going to take out the trash next week. I'll take the kids to practice next week because I got to rest for this game.'
"I'm going to put it on paper so when I give it to my wife, I'm like, 'Hey, Rex said I don't have to take out the trash.' He might get a call from my wife."