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QB Ryan Fitzpatrick: Jets are better than last year, and so am I

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- After an anxious offseason as The Quarterback Without A Team, Ryan Fitzpatrick is back in his happy place -- "the perfect situation," he calls it.

By that, he means the right team, the right coaching staff and the right moment in his career to redefine his legacy and prove to the New York Jets' organization that he's not a one-hit wonder. That's a lot of stuff for his Harvard brain to process, but Fitzpatrick doesn't seem distracted as he approaches the season -- only confident. It's not brashness, but he definitely conveys his purpose.

"I want to be in the playoffs," Fitzpatrick said Monday in a sit-down with ESPN.com. "We'll see what happens, but I think we've got the right guys to do it. ... Our expectations are higher this year. I think we're a more confident football team."

Asked if the Jets have a playoff-caliber roster, he replied without hesitation.

"Yeah, there's no doubt," he said.

Entering his 12th season, Fitzpatrick has started 105 games without a playoff appearance. The only quarterback since the 1970 merger with more starts in that category is Archie Manning (139). 'Ol Archie is a terrific guy, but this is one time you don't want to be mentioned in the same paragraph as him.

Fitzpatrick almost changed that last season, but ... well, you know what happened in Week 17. It got ugly in Buffalo and now, nine months later, he wants to make it right.

"I don't care about the [individual] stuff," he said. "My career right now is better than I could've expected in terms of how long I've played and what I've been able to do. ... I want so bad to get [to the playoffs], and part of it is because I've never been there. But a lot of it is the guys that have put so much faith in me. That's what keeps me going and why I want to get there so bad."

Fitzpatrick mentioned Brandon Marshall, Eric Decker and Nick Mangold, who acted like Washington, D.C., lobbyists during his protracted contract dispute with the Jets. His teammates used the media and social media to express their affinity for the quarterback and his importance to the team.

Decker posted a video of Fitz hanging out with the boys at a New York Rangers hockey game. An imaginative Marshall, longing for his quarterback, used a Jets teddy bear to simulate Fitzpatrick in a pretend football game, complete with a "Harvard 80" cadence. That, too, got posted.

It was brilliant public relations.

"To stick their neck out in the offseason," Fitzpatrick said, "that just means a ton to me now."

It all confirmed Fitzpatrick's stature in the locker room, but the organization still refused to make an acceptable, long-term commitment even though he set the franchise record with 31 touchdown passes. The Jets eventually coughed up a few million on the eve of training camp, as the two sides agreed to a one-year, $12 million deal. The message to Fitzpatrick was as clear as the sign on MetLife Stadium:

Show us it wasn't a fluke.

"They didn't want to fully commit to me with more than one year, and so they want me to prove myself again," Fitzpatrick said. "That's fine. I've got no problem doing that. I'm betting on myself."

One of the narratives during the stalemate was that Fitzpatrick, 33, is too old. That's ridiculous, as many quarterbacks don't reach their prime until their 30s. The position requires brains, experience and maturity. He'll be the first to say he doesn't have the raw talent of the other quarterbacks on the Jets' roster, but his intangibles are off the charts.

"I'm a better player than I was last year," he said. "I feel like I keep progressing. I don't know what the stats are going to be, but I'm going to be a better player this year than I was last year. I know that."

The best way to prove it? Get the Jets to the postseason.