Brad Smith admitted that last Saturday night, when Rex Ryan told him it was no-go for New England, was one of the toughest times his football career.
"You just want to be with your guys that you fought with all year," the Jets' slashmaster told newyorkjets.com in the locker room today before he hustled to his appointment with the training staff. "I wanted to play. No matter if I was 50 percent, then I would've found a way to get it done.
"That's why you have to have a coach like Rex. ... It was very difficult, but it was in the best interests of yourself and the team."
But what Ryan also told Smith less than 24 hours before the Jets' 28-21 rocker over the Patriots was healing music to Smith's ears, not to mention his pulled groin: "We're going to get it done. You just get better for next week."
How does the Jets' coach do it? The Jets got it done (with Smith on the sideline helping his offensive and special team mates out any way he could) and today he said he's feeling "leaps and bounds" better than he did last Friday, when he was limited at practice.
"I'm feeling a lot better — I even returned a kickoff today," he said with a smile. "I'm doing a lot more. It was very encouraging.
"It's probably not pain-free, but I don't care what it is. I just wanted to get out there. The trainers, they wanted to be smart and not let me do too much so I don't have a setback. They had to pull me off the field today. I'll just take it one day at a time and do a little bit more tomorrow."
The Jets showed they could win without one of their many valuable players at New England, but they surely would prefer if he could make the scene for Sunday's AFC Championship at Pittsburgh.
Five weeks ago, Smith ended the Jets' first-quarter touchdown drought and gave them their biggest opening-frame in 10 weeks when he returned the opening kickoff for his second return TD of the season. And once again this regular season he was at the top of an NFL rushing-leaders chart, albeit an arbitrary one — his 7.9-yard rushing average (299 yards on 38 carries, mostly out of the Seminole) was the best in the league for any player with at least a carry a game, 16 for the season.
It's not a lock that No. 16 will be back on the goal line awaiting Shaun Suisham's kickoffs or back behind center awaiting Nick Mangold's shotgun snaps. But his coach gave him a victory and a week to recover and the prospects are good that Smith will be able to give back by giving it a go against the Steelers.