FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) Ryan Fitzpatrick has bounced around the NFL for much of his 11-year career, a winding road that has taken him to stints in St. Louis and Cincinnati. Buffalo and Tennessee, too. Also, a year in Houston.
The journeyman quarterback might have finally found a home with the New York Jets.
''Yeah,'' he said Tuesday, ''I'd love to be back.''
The feeling is mutual for coach Todd Bowles, who recently told the Daily News that he ''definitely'' would be in favor of that.
''He's playing well,'' Bowles said Tuesday. ''Honestly, you deal with all the things after the season. You like the person, you like the player.''
The 33-year-old veteran is having what's shaping up to be the best statistical season of his career while leading the Jets (8-5) into contention for a playoff spot. A potential free agent after the season, Fitzpatrick could end up being a priority for New York during the offseason.
That's something few could have guessed when the Jets acquired him from Houston in March. He was the perfect backup, many thought, a guy who could serve as an experienced leader and manage games if needed. Little did anyone know that Fitzpatrick would end up putting up one of the best seasons by a Jets quarterback.
''It's his time,'' Bowles said.
''It's great,'' Fitzpatrick said of his coach's desire to have him back. ''But I'm focused at the task at hand. Things change so quickly in the NFL, so you have to take care of your business each and every week and things take care of themselves.''
Fitzpatrick is making $3.25 million this season from the contract he signed with the Texans, and could command even bigger money in the offseason if he continues his strong finish. He has thrown a career-high 25 touchdown passes, just four shy of the Jets' franchise record set by Vinny Testaverde. He also has 11 interceptions, but none in his last three games - with nine TDs in that span.
''I think at the end of the year, maybe that's stuff that you look at or think about it,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''But right now, it's how do we score on the opening drive versus Dallas (on Saturday)? That's all of my focus right now and then you can just kind of go from there.''
This impressive three-game stretch has come after Fitzpatrick decided to trim his shaggy beard for his birthday. The quarterback said he did it to ''switch up the mojo,'' and Bowles thinks Fitzpatrick can take it even further.
''Thinking about cutting it off,'' Bowles said while laughing, ''and see if he can be a little better.''
Fitzpatrick smiled when asked how his new facial hairstyle is being considered such a turning point in the Jets' season.
''I think that was a huge catalyst,'' he said. ''I think that pretty much changed the mojo and changed everything.''
So, how about getting the whole thing buzzed off?
''Nobody wants that,'' Fitzpatrick said. ''I don't want to go back to baby face. We're going to keep it like it is.''
The Jets will take it if his play continues this way.
And, consider this: Fitzpatrick has been playing the last six games with a left thumb injury that required surgery a few weeks ago and has had him in a brace. Sure, it's on his non-throwing hand, but Fitzpatrick has played through it and thrived. He has also established himself as a respected and even-keeled leader.
''He has his own humor, but he can make you feel like you want to play hard for him,'' Bowles said. ''He just has that persona and that personality around the team that everybody gravitates toward.''
Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker are having monstrous seasons with Fitzpatrick throwing to them. Marshall has 89 catches, five shy of breaking Al Toon's team record, for 1,187 yards and 11 touchdowns. Decker has 66 receptions for 875 yards and nine TDs.
With 20 combined touchdowns, Marshall and Decker are tied for the most receiving scores ever by a Jets duo.
Despite all that, Marshall joked that he was giving Fitzpatrick a copy of Keyshawn Johnson's book, ''Just Give Me The Damn Ball!''
''Yeah, I probably could have 100 catches and Deck could probably have 75 if he didn't hurt his thumb,'' Marshall said, smiling while holding up the book.
There were concerns when Fitzpatrick was forced into the starting gig during training camp when Geno Smith's jaw was broken by a punch from then-teammate Ikemefuna Enemkpali whether the quarterback could make a smooth transition. Smith had taken the majority of the snaps with the starters all offseason.
It was gradual, but the offense is humming along right now.
And, Fitzpatrick has appeared right at home.
''It took a lot of work,'' Bowles said. '' We constantly work at it, still working at it. I wouldn't say it's been smooth, but it's been good that they grew together and that they work together and continue to grow together.''
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