Todd Bowles continued to go about his days like any other.
In the lead-up to his first regular-season game as an NFL head coach, he remained even-keeled and acutely focused.
"You wanna get me excited, bring Gladys Knight in here. Other than that, I'm pretty good," the Jets' new leader joked. "Singing-wise, nothing else. Just for singing purposes."
It was a lighthearted moment in a week full of late nights and tough practices. Though he can't yet put into words how he'll feel Sunday at 1 p.m., those closest to Bowles understand the magnitude of the moment in front of him. Early in the week, his mentor Bill Parcells called. His former boss, Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, also checked in.
"Coach Parcells just said, 'Coach the game the way I want it coached,' and Bruce texted me, 'Good luck. All the best' and wished me well," Bowles said. "You get those kind of texts; Doug Williams, everybody else. You hear from a lot of people."
But Bowles doesn't have the luxury of focusing on feel-good emotions. There's just too much at stake. Sunday's opener against the Browns is the beginning of a new chapter in the Jets franchise. And Week 1 begins with a difficult test for former No. 2-turned-starting quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. The Browns, coached by former Jets defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, boast a dominant defensive line and standout cornerbacks.
"They pride themselves on stopping the run, and right now, we're coming out saying, we're going to run the ball," Jets right guard Willie Colon said. "It's going to be a mentally tough battle because they're gonna do whatever they need to do to kind of shut us down early."
Receiver Jeremy Kerley said: "We definitely get to see where we're at early. But I don't think we're going to back down from nobody, so as good as they are, I think we're going to attack them. We're confident about what we can do, and what we've done in the preseason and camp . . . We're looking to go out there and do our thing."
The loss of Geno Smith was no doubt a setback, said Jets offensive coordinator Chan Gailey. But he also believes in their backup plan. "I have a great deal of confidence in him," Gailey said of Fitzpatrick, now on his sixth team in 11 seasons. "Obviously, I think a lot of people do, or he wouldn't be in the situation that he's in."
Fitzpatrick, however, is the only quarterback since the 1970 merger to start a game for five different teams and fail to post a winning record with each team, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Still, he's confident.
"I want to be great for who I am and what type of quarterback I am," he said. "I want to put the team in the right play. I want to make the right decisions. I want to make all the throws. But great for me is going to be different than great for somebody else. I want to be as good as I know I can be and just continue to improve each week."
The Jets believe Sunday marks the start of something special. And if they win, it'll be even better.
"If you win, you can see the crowd more toward the end of the game, you can get a little excited and a little more satisfaction. But if you don't, you probably never see it," Bowles said. "I wish I could step out and tell you [what Sunday will feel like], I just know it'll be an exciting game. We've got exciting fans and I'll be ready to play."