NEW YORK (AP) The New York Jets' most unlikely of tag teams was formed on consecutive days in chilly March.
That's when new general manager Mike Maccagnan was feverishly putting together a game plan that would help set the tone for an aggressive offseason - and, eventually, a playoff push in December.
Machine Marshall and Fitz Magic. Two guys with very different backgrounds, reputations and NFL achievements. One thing, though, bonds them: a burning desire to make the playoffs for the first time in their careers.
At 7-5 after a stunning 23-20 overtime victory over the Giants on Sunday, the Jets would make the postseason as a wild-card if the playoffs started today.
''It's great to be in this situation,'' Fitzpatrick said Monday. ''To be able to play meaningful games in December, that's always the goal. It will be a lot more fun if we continue to win.''
There are four games left, of course, and the Jets need Fitzpatrick and Marshall to continue playing as they have the last few weeks if they are to get to the postseason for the first time since 2010.
Fitzpatrick threw for 390 yards and two touchdowns against the Giants, while Marshall had 12 receptions for 131 yards and a score. In the two games since buzzing his shaggy beard for his 33rd birthday, Fitzpatrick has thrown for 677 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions. Marshall has 21 catches for 262 yards and three TDs in that same span.
The two were huddled together on the Jets' bench in overtime when Josh Brown lined up for his 48-yard attempt that would have tied it for the Giants.
''I told him they're going to miss it,'' Marshall said after game. ''I said, `Hey, I've been in the league 10 years (and) haven't made the playoffs; you, 11. We've bounced around from team to team. The football gods are hearing us right now, so he's going to miss this kick.'''
Sure enough, Brown was wide left. The Jets went wild - hugs and cheers everywhere.
Somehow, an ecstatic Marshall ended up on top of Fitzpatrick on the bench as their teammates sprinted onto the field.
''It was a weird position,'' Marshall said with a big smile. ''It was awkward.''
It also perfectly summed up what this season has become for the two. Little did they know it when they became teammates, but they might just end up helping each other reach that ever-elusive postseason.
Marshall, of course, was expected from the day he was acquired to be the game-changing receiver he has been for the Jets. He came to New York with some baggage, though, with perceptions of maybe not being elite anymore following him, as well as suggestions that he could at times be a divisive presence in the locker room.
False. And, false.
Marshall is still hungry, and it shows up in every game. From the physical battles with defensive backs for the ball to his extra effort while trying to push forward for extra yards.
''That dude,'' Fitzpatrick said of Marshall, ''he makes my job so easy.''
Marshall has 83 receptions for 1,062 yards and 10 TDs, making him the first player in NFL history to have 1,000 yards receiving with four teams after previously doing it with Denver, Miami and Chicago. He's just 11 receptions away from breaking Al Toon's single-season franchise mark (1988), and four touchdowns from tying the receiving record held by Art Powell (1960) and Don Maynard (1965).
Meanwhile, Fitzpatrick has thrown for 2,866 yards and 22 touchdowns with 11 interceptions. He's still on pace to become the first Jets player with 30 TD passes in a season, and is seven from tying the mark Vinny Testaverde set in 1998.
Not bad for a journeyman quarterback on his sixth NFL team who was brought in merely to be a backup to Geno Smith. That all changed the day Ikemefuna Enemkpali infamously slugged Smith in the jaw - breaking it and forcing Fitzpatrick into the starter's role. He has been poised under pressure and earned the respect of his teammates.
''When we go on the ball, he just has command of the huddle, getting the play out, calm, collected,'' wide receiver Eric Decker said. ''What a good leader should be.''
It might have taken them years to get here, but Marshall and Fitzpatrick know they're in this together, regardless of the winding paths they took. And if they end up actually getting to the postseason, there could also be a few more winning hugs in store.
''This whole year has been awesome and a lot of it is just the team that we have,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''Coming to work every day is great because we have guys that love the game of football and love playing together.''
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