By DENNIS WASZAK Jr.
AP Sports Writer
FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Plaxico Burress planned to hop on a plane to Florida this week with his family and meet up with some old friends.
Mickey Mouse. Goofy. Maybe even Donald Duck.
After everything the Jets wide receiver has been through the past few years, Disney World seemed as perfect a place as any for Burress and his family to kick back during the bye-week break.
"I'm pretty sure that they'll enjoy that," Burress said, "and just let them unwind and have a little fun."
For Burress, the football field has always been that special place, and he's relishing every play, every catch and, especially, every trip into the endzone. For a guy who's just a few months removed from completing a nearly two-year prison sentence after accidentally shooting himself, this has been quite the Michael Vick-like storybook comeback.
And, Burress insists, he's only getting started.
"It feels good to go out and have an impact," he said, "and go out and make a few plays, get into a little groove and establish some consistency and just let this be a stepping stone."
A big one, at that. His three-touchdown performance Sunday in the Jets' 27-21 victory over the Chargers was a clear indication that Burress is back to being a big-time red-zone scoring threat — just as he was before his career was put on hold by a bullet in his right thigh in November 2008.
"That's the way everybody envisioned the addition of Plaxico to our team, particularly in the red zone," RB LaDainian Tomlinson said. "You saw it show up three times, for three big scores we needed."
First came a 3-yard catch in the second quarter that cut the Jets' deficit to 14-10. Next was a 4-yard grab late in the third quarter that again sliced the Chargers' lead to four points at 21-17. The last came midway through the fourth quarter, a 3-yard reception that gave New York the go-ahead score.
Burress scanned the crowd at MetLife Stadium after each touchdown, found his family and handed them the ball. His young son, Elijah, couldn't believe it as the souvenirs piled up.
"After I gave him the third, he was like, 'Daddy, you got threeee?' And, I was like, 'Yeah!' " Burress recalled. "He was excited, so excited that he wanted me to get up and take him to school (Monday) morning, I guess to kind of show his Daddy off type of thing. It was a great day for us and it was a long time coming for my family."
They all wondered if there would ever be days like this again while they anxiously waited for Burress to come home while he served his 20 months in the Oneida Correctional Facility in Rome, N.Y. He cleaned toilets and counted off the days, dreaming of moments like those on Sunday.
Even in his darkest days, Burress never lost faith that he would make it back.
To his family. To the NFL. Or, to the endzone.
That's why the former Super Bowl star with the Giants sat in the back seat of his car after his big game, stuck in postgame traffic on Route 17 near the stadium with the radio off and alone in his thoughts.
"I was just shaking my head and just envisioning getting back to having fun and playing at a high level," he said. "Just thinking about everything me and my family have been through. It was gratifying and humbling all at the same time. It can be a very humbling game. Don't get too high with the highs and don't get too low with the lows. Just keep working hard, staying positive and everything will work out."
That was what some of the 23 missed phone calls and 40-something texts he received reminded him of. With highlights of each of his touchdown grabs shown all over television, the fans and media proclaimed: Burress Is Back.
"I was back a long time ago," he said with a smile. "I just haven't really been able to let the practice show on Sundays."
Burress has 18 catches for 243 yards and five touchdowns, but it hasn't been a completely smooth return. The Jets signed him in late July and then he missed some time with a sprained ankle. That limited his opportunities to click with Mark Sanchez, and they're still fine-tuning things. It was evident even Sunday, when they missed a few times on plays.
"People expect results right away," Sanchez said. "We're going through it and (Sunday) happened to be a good day, and we have to keep building on it."
Burress said his legs aren't completely in the shape he'd like them to be. He also acknowledged that he now goes to practice for the first time in his career truly needing to work on getting better. In the past, it all came so easily.
Some Jets players knew of Burress from charity events, Pro Bowl appearances and playing against him when he was with the Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers. They also wondered about reports that maybe he wasn't the hardest-working guy, a player who perhaps wasn't always fully dedicated to the game.
"Yeah, you hear stuff, but you've got to leave that in the past," CB Darrelle Revis said. "I think he has grown as a man and a human being. He does what he needs to do. I can't say all that he went through taught him a lesson because I don't know. And, I'm not saying it didn't. But, we accepted him the day he got here. Nobody pointed any fingers, like, 'Oh, you're a bad person.' "
Burress gradually got to know his new teammates, who respected what he had been through and appreciated his humility.
"He's a Jet, man. We baptized him," Revis said with a big laugh. "Nowadays, so many players get traded or end up with other teams. Plax is a Jet now. His past is his past. He made unbelievable plays in the past, and now he's making them again.
"I mean, just throw it up to him."
Burress still gets questions about the day he shot himself, what prison was like and how difficult the journey has been. That's OK, he says. With more days like Sunday, that stuff will start to fade.
"I really don't focus on what everybody's saying about my past," Burress said. "I mean, it'll always be a part of my history. I've dealt with it and moved on, and one day, I hope everybody else will, too. I'm here just trying to get back to being a good football player and playing at a high level, and I know the only way that is going to come is through hard work."
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