FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The games are important, just as they are for anyone who steps onto a football field. But for Jets receiver Terrelle Pryor, this is about more than just winning. This is about being in position to even have a chance to win.
It’s about being able to play — period.
“I broke my ankle [four] months ago, so just coming back from that and being humbled by that and being on this team,” Pryor told Newsday on Monday as he prepares to face his former team in Thursday night’s game against the Browns. “It’s amazing. It amazes me every day when I wake up.”
Pryor points to his ankle, where there is a constant reminder of what he went through, including another ankle injury last year with the Redskins in which he suffered three torn ligaments.
“I got this big scar and I’m like, 'wow, to be able to go out there and run routes the way I’ve been doing,”' he said. “It’s a blessing.”
At one point, he feared his career might be over.
“The way the doctor was saying it like, ‘I’m sorry to break this news’ type stuff,” Pryor said of the injury he suffered in May during a Jets’ practice. “I’m like . . . I’m thinking the worst.”
A surgical procedure was successful, and Pryor spent six hours a day in physical therapy — three sessions of two hours each. “You learn about yourself,” he said. “Every day matters.”
Yes, the passion still burns brightly for the 29-year-old Pryor, but perspective has made his athletic life all the more fulfilling. Just to still be playing is a victory in and of itself.
Some unfinished business remains. He is anxious to atone for what happened late in the third quarter of Sunday’s 20-12 loss to the Dolphins, when Pryor was in position to score a touchdown that would have gotten the Jets to within one score. But on a throw into the end zone from quarterback Sam Darnold, Pryor admitted he failed to run the proper route and was out of position when Darnold delivered the ball. The pass was picked off by Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard.
“I let the team down, and it’s frustrating,” a disconsolate Pryor said after the game. “It’s something I just keep on thinking about, thinking about it during the game. I need to let that go and just learn from it.”
Pryor finished the game with four catches for 84 yards, including a 44-yard reception near the end of the first half that put the Jets in scoring position. Darnold’s last-second throw over the middle to tight end Chris Herndon left the Jets one yard short of the end zone as time expired in the second quarter.
So now, it’s back to Cleveland to face a Browns team that gave him his second chance in the NFL after an ill-fated run as the Raiders’ quarterback. Pryor had his best NFL season in 2016, catching 77 passes for 1,007 yards and four touchdowns. He signed a one-year deal with the Redskins before the 2017 season, but his ankle injury cut short his season and left him with just 20 catches for 240 yards and a touchdown.
“I love Ohio,” said Pryor, who was a quarterback for three seasons at Ohio State and left the school in 2011 after being implicated in an NCAA investigation into receiving improper benefits. “Going back to my old stomping grounds. That’s always exciting.”
Will he have to dial back his emotions in preparing to face his former team?
“Any time you get on the football field, emotions are going to be high, no matter who you’re playing,” he said. “It has nothing to do with playing for [the Browns] and having success with them. It has more to do with just God giving me the ability to play this game. From the injury I had, it humbles you and shows you how blessed you are. You can’t take any day, any game, any emotion for granted.”
Then again, making up for Sunday’s interception sure would feel good if it can help the Jets get back on the winning track after a mistake-filled loss that followed a stunning 48-17 win over the Lions in the Monday night opener.
Pryor believes there will be a better ending ahead – whether it comes on Thursday night or not.
“It’s going to be an amazing story this year, I believe,” he said. “This team, we’re going to do great things.”