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Jets' Fitzpatrick on facing Pats: 'This is huge for me'

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The fate of this year's resilient New York Jets boils down to one very familiar task on Sunday: knocking off the New England Patriots.

A loss would likely finish off Gang Green in the AFC. A win, though, would place the Jets in excellent position for a wild-card berth with a victory over the Bills in Week 17.

Playoffs aside, Sunday's border war between these long-testy rivals means plenty to both clubs. After all, it was Tom Brady who once declared, "I hate the Jets," before New York safety Calvin Pryor admitted: "We don't like Tom at all."

While New England's fortunes still pivot around Brady, this year's Jets have clung to a quarterback that few expected to be at the center of a late-December playoff run: Ryan Fitzpatrick.

"I don't know if I want to place a significance on it, where (it ranks) in my career, but this is huge for me," Fitzpatrick said of Sunday's duel, per ESPN.com. "I'm excited. This is why everybody in here plays the game, to play in a football games like this in December and have a shot at playing longer."

Long tagged as a mundane journeyman, Fitzpatrick has toiled for six teams over the past decade, with only his stint in Buffalo lasting more than two seasons. In New York, though, the Amish Rifle has reunited with creative play-caller Chan Gailey. The pairing has worked, with Fitzpatrick playing the best football of his career during a heady four-game win streak for the Jets.

These final two weeks must hold special meaning for the signal-caller. After all, the Patriots slayed Fitzpatrick repeatedly during his four-season stretch in Buffalo, while the Bills -- next week's opponent -- dumped Fitzpatrick two years ago after signing him to a lucrative contract extension.

This is a massive opportunity for Fitzpatrick, who has a chance to turn the Jets into a playoff team for the first time since 2010. The years since have been a painful oblivion for New York's loyal fan base, watching Rex Ryan go down in flames while Brady's Patriots remain eternally nestled on their comfortable throne.

New England rests atop the AFC once again, but Jets players believe this year is different, with Pryor pointing to the Patriots as an enemy that no longer holds a psychological grip over one of football's grittiest rivalries.

"When we played them the first time, we felt like we could play with them, but we didn't feel like we could dominate and win that game," Pryor said. "I'm thinking it's a different mindset now that we have."

Unlike those increasingly tedious Ryan-led teams, this year's Jets are fueled by more than just bluster and hot air. Said Bowles: "We've grown. We're playing together and they trust each other a little more. We have better chemistry."

We've seen that on the field over the past four weeks, but the acid test -- the only test that matters -- comes Sunday.

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