C.J. Uzomah already missed his chance to play in a “Hate Game.” Next up is a Respect Game that he refuses to watch from the sideline.
The second phase of Uzomah’s career — he left the Cincinnati Bengals to sign a three-year, $24 million contract with the Jets in free agency — has gotten off to a slow start. He was held without a catch against the Ravens and did not play against the Browns due to a hamstring injury.
With the Bengals visiting Sunday, Uzomah was a limited participant in Wednesday’s practice, but the injury report is just a formality here.
“I can’t miss this game,” Uzomah told The Post in a voice still hoarse from cheering on teammates last Sunday. “I want to play in this game.”
Uzomah’s final act with the Bengals was to play 49 snaps and make two catches for 11 yards in Super Bowl LVI, just two weeks after suffering a sprained MCL in the AFC Championship game. It was a team-first decision and act of determination that could’ve been costly if he were further injured just ahead of free agency.
“I have nothing but great things to say about those guys,” Uzomah said. “They treated me well the seven years I was there. To have that be the last product of myself wearing those colors, I’m super happy about that. That’s what I hope I’m remembered for there, for sure.”
At the time, Uzomah still believed he might stay put. The Bengals and his agent went “back and forth” in contract negotiations until the Jets joined in looking for a starter and a leader to anchor a total house-cleaning of their tight ends. There’s still plenty of time for Uzomah to deliver as advertised after career-highs across the board (49 catches for 493 yards and five touchdowns) last season.
“He’s a really good player and he’s proven that for a long time now,” quarterback Joe Flacco said, “so any time you add a guy like that — especially a guy that fits right into the locker room and is a hard worker — it’s going to help an offense out.”
Uzomah, Tyler Conklin and rookie Jeremy Ruckert all are first-year Jets, and Lawrence Cager was playing with the receivers last season.
“There were a bunch of factors that led me here,” Uzomah said. “I’m here now and that’s all that matters, but any time you are anywhere for seven years, that’s a long time — longer than some of my friends have been [in relationships]. I couldn’t be happier. I’m focused on this season, this team and getting back to the Super Bowl.”
It sounds a little less like a pipe dream after the Jets’ stirring 31-30 comeback win against the Browns last week.
“I’m still trying to recover from yelling the entire game,” Uzomah said. “I wanted to win that game more than anything. I played Cleveland 14 times in seven years. To do it on that field, too, where I tore my Achilles two years ago, I wish I was out there. I’m excited to play Cincinnati, but that was a ‘Hate Game’ because I do not like Cleveland. That was very tough to miss, but I’m glad we came out with the ‘W.’ ”
It was the Jets’ most impressive win since beating Uzomah’s Bengals last Halloween. Nobody with the Jets knows better than the 29-year-old transplant the feeling of revenge that might be stirring in the opposing locker room as kickoff approaches and the Bengals try to avoid a 0-3 start.
“Their mindset is to get their first win,” Uzomah said. “They’ve been shooting themselves in the foot. The whole league knows what they have there. They are going to come out with a vengeance, for sure. But so are we. We are trying to make this about our locker room and our narrative: ‘One win doesn’t mean anything in this league. You have to stack them.’ We know who they are, but we know where we are trying to get to.”
The friendly trash talk with former teammates hasn’t started yet, but Uzomah has reminded some Bengals staffers of his returning presence.
“I have 50-something friends over there,” Uzomah said, “so it’s a huge respect thing.”