FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Brandon Marshall distinctly remembers the day he found out that the fate of last season would rest in Ryan Fitzpatrick’s hands.
First, he tried to convince Fitzpatrick to take off the wedding ring that he insists on wearing on gameday: “I thought that was really weird and awkward,” Marshall recalled Thursday afternoon.
Then he all but abandoned hope: On the ring, on the season, on everything. “I was scared,” he said after learning that Fitzpatrick would be the Jets’ starter last season. “Yeah, I was scared. It was over. Season’s over. We’re done. Done . . . He was terrible. He really was. I mean, he was coming off a broken leg, have a five-yard hitch route, throw it in the dirt. And everybody felt that way.”
Give Marshall points for candor, and for willing to admit that he was wrong.
Fitzpatrick turned out to be one of the Jets’ most valuable assets last year — he, along with that vaunted defense, held them afloat and led them to their first winning season since 2010, after all. And now in their second season with Fitzpatrick on one end and Marshall on the other, the Jets are in the enviable position of fielding a first-team offense that has eased out of its considerable growing pains. With their third preseason game on tap for Saturday against the Giants, there’s growing excitement surrounding what Fitzpatrick, Marshall, Eric Decker, and a growing cadre of talented skill players can do to opposing defenses.
“We’re lightyears ahead of where we were [at the end of last year] from a communication standpoint,” Marshall said. “It was hard to do what we did last year. We definitely came up short. We obviously didn’t win it. But for us to have Ryan come in, get the ball late in training camp, me being new, having a new offensive coordinator, new head coach, new left guard — that definitely makes it hard for our offense to jell and bond the way you would want it to to be successful. It feels like it took us to seven or eight weeks to do that. And we just feel really good with where we’re at right now.”
It’s a sentiment echoed by both Fitzpatrick and Jets coach Todd Bowles, who said that Saturday’s game will focus on offensive cohesiveness and chemistry. Fitzpatrick, Bowles has said, will probably play at least one half, and Saturday may also hail the preseason debut of Matt Forte (hamstring).
“We game plan this one a little bit more, just in terms of having some plays that we put in that we want to go out and execute,” Fitzpatrick said. “I’d love to see some of the stuff we’ve done in practice translate into the field — just guys having a good understanding of a game plan and maybe some of the new wrinkles and learning to run some of the new routes against certain coverages. I think that will be nice to get in and just get the run game going as well. We just haven’t had a lot of time out there to get in a rhythm.”
And though there’s no palpable excitement about playing their city rivals — “Not much,” Bowles deadpanned when asked what the game means to him — there is a feeling that Saturday will be an excellent opportunity for the team to finally meld. It could also give some insight in to how this season is going to go.
“It’s more so internal work than trying to go out there and win a game and feel like we need to be hyped like it’s a regular-season game,” Marshall said. “There’s a bunch of little details that we need to get more reps at as far as our communication out there, going from one route to another, Fitz being able to signal out to us whether verbally, hand signal or nonverbal.”
The team watched video of their overtime thriller against the Giants in Week 16 before practice, Marshall said, and though the Jets won that game, they all saw lapses that needed to be remedied. And, he said, with some extra time together, he believes they’re in their reach.
“We just felt like we left a lot out there,” he said. “I’m excited about the little details — being able to talk to Ryan and being able to hear how Ryan and Deck are communicating.”
Last year it was fear. This year it’s excitement. Progress, all around.