Twenty-four hours after the Jets' loss in the AFC Championship Game to the Steelers, offensive linemen Wayne Hunter and Rob Turner sat down with voice of the Jets Bob Wischusen on Monday night at Grasshopper Off The Green in Morristown, N.J., to reflect on the season that was.
The dramatic conclusion to the game at Heinz Field was a bitter one that the majority of the Jets had to taste for the second time in a year.
"In the locker room there was a loss, there was emptiness in your stomach," Turner said. "Matt Slauson, I talked to him after the game, he said, 'I feel sick,' and I said, 'I know, I feel like I'm going to puke.' There's just so much emptiness after the loss, it was such a letdown. Last year nobody expected us to be in the championship game. This year we expected to be there and we expected to keep moving on. To just abruptly stop like that was just nasty."
On Monday in the locker room, players packed up their belongings and personal items while saying their goodbyes to fellow players and staff for the final time this season. Before all of the players departed, they met as a group and head coach Rex Ryan delivered a message and even sported Jets dogtags at his news conference. Hunter described the mood and the feeling among the Green & White on their final day at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center as a unit.
"Everyone was still kind of swallowing the defeat," Hunter said. "It's something that's even harder to get over especially because of what happened last year. First you lose a game in the second half and now you lose a game by the first half. We have to put 60 minutes together sometime or else we're never going to make it to the Super Bowl."
To this group, spotting a 24-point lead to the Steelers in the first 30 minutes of Sunday night's game —the most-watched AFC Championship Game in history — was unacceptable. After two highly anticipated and emotional road victories, at Indianapolis and New England, the Jets were upset that their response in the first half wasn't stronger, despite the crescendo that occurred in terms of level of play in practice throughout the week.
"I would definitely say it built," Turner said. "We did have a pretty good week in practice. The tempo was upbeat, the coaches were upbeat. Guys were executing, flying around. It wasn't our time, that's all I can say. We came out flat offensively and defensively, we tried to mount a comeback in the second half. It just wasn't enough."
As Wischusen noted, if the Jets looked at the regular-season schedule and saw "at Indianapolis, at New England and at Pittsburgh" in three consecutive weeks, it would have been an impressive feat for any team to come away with even one victory, let alone two and nearly three. The Jets were one defensive stop away from getting the ball back with a few minutes to go and a chance to advance to the Super Bowl.
Having to play on the road against three Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks was a challenge, but one the Jets believed they could achieve, even though they'd prefer to have had those games at New Meadowlands Stadium instead.
"We've always had that confidence, especially in the team we had this year, that we could beat any team on the road," Hunter said. "Going into Indianapolis, going into the Patriots, there was really no doubt in my minds that we could get it done.
"It'd always be nice to have a bye. With the kind of fans that we have, it'd be a crazy game if we were playing at home. I really want to play one at home, so hopefully we can get that done next year."
The two linemen, both of whom have been used as jumbo-package tight ends, were candid about their thoughts and feelings about the upcoming season and the fact that the roster will not be the same next year. With a bevy of players coming off the books as free agents and a new Collective Bargaining Agreement still needing to be signed, there are many variables for Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum to work out, but also a solid core in place.
"I think if you look from a management standpoint, they can always find a piece to add to it," Turner said. "From what we have as an offensive unit, I think the sky is the limit. That's not to be boastful but I have every bit of confidence in the guys that we have in the room. Rex talks about being a Jet through and through. That's why we do the things we do. That's why we play the way we play."