Tom Brady is a man on a mission.
It's unclear whom he's trying to make a statement to -- his DeflateGate detractors or Father Time. But the 38-year-old is on a tear, throwing 14 touchdown passes and only one interception in five games. And with Brady leading the way, the New England Patriots have steamrolled the competition en route to a 5-0 start.
Brady is a quarterback with a killer instinct, one whose poise under pressure is matched only by his accuracy.
And Ryan Fitzpatrick? Well, he's a different story.
"He's a game manager," Jets linebacker Quinton Coples said matter-of-factly.
Sunday's AFC East showdown between the Jets (4-1) and the defending Super Bowl champions will pit a future Hall of Famer against a journeyman backup-turned-starter. But by no means do the Jets believe they're at a disadvantage.
"Nobody has the advantage until the end of the fourth quarter when it says who wins," Coples said.
"It's one thing if we have a quarterback who's throwing eight picks a game or something reckless. Then yes, you can call it that," added right guard Willie Colon. "But Fitz is always prepared, he knows where he's going with the ball, he's able to put us in good positions, he knows what he needs to do in hurry-up situations.
"I think he's just the ultimate game manager, which a lot of good quarterbacks are."
That label often is viewed as an insult, but Colon said it's anything but that when applied to Fitzpatrick. "People take it as somebody that's limited. And I don't think people feel like that toward Fitz at all," the Hofstra alum said. "I think if you look at what we've been through the last few years and to where we're at now, I don't understand how you can take it as a slight."
Though Fitzpatrick has made his share of mistakes on the field, he's impressed as the Jets' starter. He had a Total Quarterback Rating of 91.4 against Miami and 99.0 against Washington in back-to-back weeks, and according to ESPN.com, he's on pace for the best Total QBR of any Jets quarterback in the 10 seasons of QBR data.
The most troubling statistic, however, is his seven interceptions. Only Peyton Manning (10), Matthew Stafford (nine), Sam Bradford (nine) and Kirk Cousins (eight) have more.
But in Fitzpatrick, the Jets have found a veteran who understands "what this team is about," Colon said. "We're going to run the ball, we're going to be physical, we're going to let the defense ride, and all we've got to do is just keep the game in a manageable position, and things are going to work out."
Fitzpatrick, 32, has plenty of familiarity with Brady given his four seasons in Buffalo. "He does a great job," Fitzpatrick said. "He's just so efficient out there and he's fun to watch just because of how in command he is of that offense and of the game."
But on Sunday, he won't be worried about what Brady is doing. "My focus is playing against the Patriots' defense," Fitzpatrick said. "When we're on the sideline, I'm looking at the books and the pictures trying to get my guys set and then we're going out there for another series. That's how we kind of treat every game."
Colon credits Brady as a talented and fierce competitor, but he is quick to highlight Fitzpatrick's intangibles.
"You can't put them in the same category just because of what Tom's been able to accomplish. But we believe in Fitz and we know that he's going to go out there and fight his tail off, just like we are," Colon said.
"When he's leading a block to try to spring Chris [Ivory], you don't necessarily see Tom do that all the time. When you see Fitz scrambling for a run, most people yell 'slide,' and he's fighting for the extra yard . . . And not to say anything toward Tom in that regard. But we have a quarterback that you can tell his sense of urgency is high in how he plays. He wants to be out there, he fights, he scraps. If anything, he motivates us to kind of get everything going."
So, no, the Jets don't feel at a disadvantage with Fitzpatrick. Nor are they surprised that he's helped them start off 4-1.
"He beat our defense before when he was with the Bills," Coples said, smiling. "So there wasn't any surprise as far as how he's handled the situation and the success he's having. He gets the job done."