FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Jaiquawn Jarrett was out of football at this time two years ago, wondering when — or if — he would get another chance at an NFL career.
It was a sudden fall during which he went from being a second-round draft pick to an unemployed disappointment in a span of 17 months.
"I just stayed focused and kept my faith in God," the New York Jets safety said Wednesday. "You go through a lot in life, but adversity only made me stronger."
Fast forward two years from those darkest days, and Jarrett is enjoying the best week of his career.
The Brooklyn, New York, native was selected as the AFC defensive player of the week after racking up 10 total tackles, two interceptions, a sack and a fumble recovery in the Jets' stunning 20-13 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday.
"It's an amazing feeling, just to have that accolade under your belt," Jarrett said. "But my teammates, they deserve it more than I do."
Whenever New York made a big play on defense, Jarrett seemed to be right in the middle of it. And, for a team that had just three takeaways all season, Jarrett single-handedly equaled that amount in just one game.
"Well, I was surprised we got an interception," a joking Rex Ryan said. "It's been a long time."
It's also been a long road for Jarrett, who was a star at Temple University as a college teammate of Muhammad Wilkerson, whom the Jets drafted in the first round in 2011. New York had its eye on Jarrett in that draft, too.
"I'll never forget I was like, 'You know, if we get these two kids from Temple, it's been a great draft,'" Ryan recalled.
But Philadelphia snatched up Jarrett in the second round with the 54th pick. His NFL career started a bit late because of the NFL lockout, which kept players away from team facilities and working with coaches for several weeks that offseason. Jarrett played in 12 games as a rookie, including two starts, but struggled with coverages and missed tackles.
After the Eagles' season-opening win over the Cleveland Browns in 2012, they cut Jarrett. He sat out the next three months until the Jets signed him to a reserve-future contract after the regular-season finale.
"Unfortunately, it didn't work out for me in Philly," he said. "I'm grateful for that opportunity I had there, but I'm even more humbled and blessed for the opportunity that I have here."
He played in all 16 games last season for the Jets, but was mostly a role player and special teams contributor. He also appeared to be the odd-man out in the safety rotation this summer when the Jets selected Calvin Pryor in the first round last May, but he kept impressing his coaches in practice.
With Pryor struggling and being late for a few team meetings, Ryan gave Jarrett a rare start against the Steelers. The plan was to have Jarrett and Pryor rotate during the game, but Jarrett kept making plays and stayed in for every defensive snap while Pryor was relegated to just special teams duty.
Ryan has also already said Jarrett will start the Jets' next game after the bye-week break at Buffalo on Nov. 23.
"Sometimes it just shows, it's not the easiest thing to do to come in and play safety in this league as a rookie," Ryan said. "Even the great ones have struggled at times, so, I think giving him that opportunity, we knew the kind of player he was."
Jarrett got the first full sack of his career on Pittsburgh's first possession. Wilkerson forced a fumble on the Steelers' second possession, and his old Temple teammate was there to scoop it up for the turnover.
Then came the first two interceptions of his career.
"All those guys really work well together and they push each other," Ryan said of his secondary, "but it was great to see that he had that kind of day."
It was the first time a Jets player had three takeaways in a game since Ty Law had three interceptions against Buffalo in the 2005 regular-season finale. Jarrett also became the first NFL player with at least two interceptions, one fumble recovery and one sack in a game since Green Bay's Charles Woodson in 2009.
"Yeah, my phone was kind of blowing up and my followers jumped up on Instagram and Twitter," Jarrett said with a big smile.
It's also a long way from those days not too long ago when he sat, anxiously, waiting for his next call.
"You always dream of it," the 25-year-old said. "If you speak it to existence and have a lot of faith and belief, it'll happen."
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