It all started with a punch.
A walking trivia question named IK Enemkpali was sick of Geno Smith treating him like a nobody. Smith's aloof nature had turned others off before, but Enemkpali was a man of strange principle and a temper that would spook Tony Soprano. Over $600 -- the price of a plane ticket -- Smith was IKO'd, the fallout costing the quarterback 2015 relevance and any chance of a redemptive story arc with the Jets. In truth, few were holding their breath on that anyway.
With one right cross, the circus was back in Florham Park. Mindless drama was supposed to disappear when mild-mannered Todd Bowles replaced well-liked bloviator Rex Ryan, and yet, here we were. A big top operating in the shadow of Giants. If there was ever a training camp soap opera capable of sinking a season before it started, this was Bowles' "Iceberg, right ahead!" moment. Notch another achievement on the Jets' belt of misery.
Ryan Fitzpatrick never had the look of a gallant knight capable of saving a season. The Jets acquired the journeyman for a sixth-round pick in a quiet March trade that generated a handful of headlines before being blown away by more relevant offseason happenings. Fitzpatrick's job was simply to give the Jets another option if the GenoCoaster went off the tracks. To play the role Mike Vick had no interest in the previous season (even if shifty No. 7 still got a paycheck for it).
Fitzpatrick was less a bridge for the team and more a rest stop. If Geno failed, Fitz could come in, and the Jets could idle their engine until they could take another shot at solving their unending quarterback problem in the offseason.
Harvard guys don't often get underestimated, but that's what happened here. Fitzpatrick recovered from the broken leg that ended his previous season in Houston, quickly absorbed the essentials of Chan Gailey's offense, and immediately built a rapport with teammates. Bowles gets plenty of credit for saving the Jets in August, but it's really Fitzpatrick who deserves the biggest back slaps.
It's impossible for Jets fans to watch what Fitzpatrick is doing this season and not think about another quarterback from the franchise's not-too-distant past. In 1998, Vinny Testaverde was, like Fitzpatrick, brought to the team to serve as a veteran backup to a younger quarterback. Like Fitzpatrick, Testaverde took over early in the season and enjoyed a career year throwing to a pair of talented wide receivers. In '98, Testaverde had Keyshawn Johnson and Wayne Chrebet. In '15, Fitzpatrick has Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.
Testaverde went 12-1 as a starter, threw a franchise-record 29 touchdown passes and took the Jets to the AFC Championship Game. Fitzpatrick enters Saturday just four touchdowns behind Testaverde's record. If he ever managed to lead the 8-5 Jets over the hump, the city will name a damn airport after him.
Of course, you'll have to forgive Jets fans if they have trust issues. We're in December after all, a month that has always been a true season of giving for Gang Green. They've been offering up playoff spots to other teams for decades. It's only fair to ask the question: Are these Jets for real ... or are they just the Same Old Jets?
Fitzpatrick -- more than any other player on the roster -- is the figure who fans project all that ugly baggage onto. He's a quarterback known for his late-season swoons. His own past mirrors the history of the team he's trying to lead.
Maybe the Jets will go into Dallas on Saturday night and lay that familiar December egg. Then again, maybe they won't. Plenty of people underestimated Fitzpatrick. Todd Bowles knows the feeling. Now the two men have the chance to give the gift of faith to the fan base.