FLORHAM PARK, N.J.
There is no other place that Ryan Fitzpatrick wanted to be, even if he didn’t get the kind of long-term security he was hoping for. It was the Jets and only the Jets, and a one-year contract doesn’t change the motivation that burns inside.
The regular season beckons, with the Jets embarking on a difficult schedule that begins Sunday at home against the Bengals, and Fitzpatrick is at the start of what he believes will be the biggest and best year of his career.
“I think I’m in a great situation,” he said at his locker Monday after practice. “I really wanted to be back here, because I felt like, as an offense, we definitely had some unfinished business from last year. I think it’s a really talented team, and I just feel like it’s the perfect spot for me.”
There is no better time, no better opportunity at a championship, than this.
“With the personnel we have, with the coaches we have in place,” Fitzpatrick said, “if I’m gonna succeed in this league, it’s gonna be here and it’s gonna be now.”
Yes, Fitzpatrick is as bullish on this team as anyone inside the building at 1 Jets Drive. At 33 and coming off the best statistical season of his career, he is convinced that this team as currently constituted can have an exceptional year.
He won’t go so far as to predict a Super Bowl run, but he does believe there is enough talent to make the playoffs. And for those who suggest that Fitzpatrick has topped out after throwing a franchise-record 31 touchdown passes last year, the quarterback begs to differ.
“I hope I have a better year this year, because there’s a lot of things I can improve on from last year,” he said. “People see last year as a career year for me, but I left a lot on the table, too. There’s a lot of ways I can get better.”
Of course, last season ended on a bitter note when Fitzpatrick stumbled against Rex Ryan’s Bills in Buffalo. With a chance to go to the playoffs for the first time in his career, Fitzpatrick threw three interceptions.
But Fitzpatrick said he’s over the loss and that it’s simply one more example of how an improved performance might have led to different results. Asked if he’s still bothered by what happened in Buffalo, he simply responded: “No.”
That loss might have cost Fitzpatrick, though. After failing to reach the playoffs and playing so poorly in a must-win situation, he saw his leverage take a dive. He attracted only modest interest from the Broncos after Brock Osweiler signed with Houston, and the Jets were the only team interested in him as a starter.
General manager Mike Maccagnan decided he wouldn’t negotiate against himself, so he waited out Fitzpatrick until the day before training camp, when the two decided on a one-year, $12-million deal. It wasn’t what Fitzpatrick had hoped for, but he’s long past any ill will.
From here on out, it’s all about football. It starts on Sunday at MetLife Stadium — the start of a torturous sequence of six games against five playoff teams from 2015 and the Bills, who beat Fitzpatrick’s Jets twice last season.
“We’re going to try to win all our games, but we’ve got to win the first one,” Fitzpatrick said. “We have to try to start fast. We have a group of guys, a lot of them that have done this for a long time and some younger guys that kind of fall in line and are figuring it out as we go. But I think we’re going to be ready to go.”
Fitzpatrick stands atop a crowded quarterback depth chart that includes Geno Smith, Bryce Petty and rookie Christian Hackenberg. But the elder statesman of the group makes it clear who’s in charge.
“Obviously, there’s only one guy that gets to play,” Fitzpatrick said, “so hopefully I’ll have a lot of helpers during the week, getting game-plan stuff just in terms of watching film and having more sets of eyes.”
It’s his team and it’s his time.
Doubters, be forewarned: Fitzpatrick is ready.