FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Ryan Fitzpatrick endured a few dark and physically challenging months to get back to where he'll be Sunday.
He's a starting quarterback again, and Fitzpatrick allowed his mind to wander to what he thinks that moment will be like when he steps on the field at MetLife Stadium to open the season for the New York Jets against the Cleveland Browns.
''You know what?'' he said Wednesday. ''It's going to be awesome.''
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He has come a long way since that day last December when his season with the Houston Texans ended abruptly when he broke his left leg playing against Indianapolis. The injury was serious enough that Fitzpatrick needed a rod inserted into the leg, and what followed was a seemingly never-ending period of rehabilitation.
''Having trouble walking for a few months, it was hard for me,'' he recalled. ''It's hard when you're sitting around and having to put in the rehab and the hours and you're not seeing much in terms of results for months and months.''
For a 32-year-old quarterback, there's no guarantee that you'll ever see the field again after an injury that severe. Through it all, Fitzpatrick never considered that it would be the end of the line.
He leaned on friends and others who had injuries, trying to remain patient - and positive.
''There was always a light at the end of the tunnel,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''It certainly was hard early on with the injury.''
While he was still healing, the Texans traded Fitzpatrick to the quarterback-needy Jets in March. By the time workouts and organized team activities started in the spring, Fitzpatrick was on his way to getting healthy.
''I think it'll mean even that much more to me,'' he said of Sunday's game, ''just because of the reward of all the hard work that I put in and a lot of people on New York's and Houston's medical staffs put in to get me ready.''
The reason the Jets wanted Fitzpatrick was because of his familiarity with new offensive coordinator Chan Gailey's system, giving them the perfect backup in case starter Geno Smith struggled or was injured.
It turned out to be an incredibly fortunate case of foresight. Smith was slugged by then-teammate Ikemefuna Enemkpali on Aug. 11, breaking the quarterback's jaw and sidelining him at least the first four games of the regular season.
With one franchise-rocking punch, Fitzpatrick was thrust into the role he hoped to fill again someday.
''Obviously, the situation there is well-documented,'' Cleveland coach Mike Pettine said, ''but I don't think the Jets could have had a more ideal situation to fall back into.''
Fitzpatrick thrived in three seasons under Gailey when the two were together in Buffalo from 2010-12. He showed he still had plenty left last year in Houston, throwing for a franchise-record six touchdowns and 358 yards against Tennessee two weeks before the injury.
He sidestepped a question about whether he thought he might still be the starter with the Texans if not for breaking his leg.
''I hate to live in the world of hypotheticals, you know?'' he said. ''I'm glad I'm here and I'm glad I'm a Jet and I'm looking forward to the season.''
Fitzpatrick spent the bulk of the preseason getting more acquainted with the starters on offense, including wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.
''Personally, I think he's in a good place as a quarterback at this stage of his career,'' said coach Todd Bowles, who noted that Fitzpatrick is comfortable with who he is on the field.
That might not have been the case earlier in his career, when his play might have left a lot to be desired during early stops in St. Louis, Cincinnati and even perhaps his first year in Buffalo in 2009.
Fitzpatrick said he thinks about the game differently from how he used to, constantly working to improve on his weaknesses.
''To be honest, I think you guys know most of them,'' a smiling Fitzpatrick said. ''I've seen plenty of articles where you guys have pointed them out. There's plenty of stuff, but decision making, there's so much that goes into that.''
Many believe that if Fitzpatrick can continue to make smart calls and as a game manager type of quarterback, New York has enough talent around him to be make a run at the playoffs for the first time since the 2010 season.
''I'm going to go out there and I want to be great for who I am and what type of quarterback I am,'' he said. ''Great for me is going to be different for somebody else, you know? I want to be as good as I know I can be and just continue to improve each week. I think I've continued to improve each year as my career has gone on, so continue on that up trend.''
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