Some of the players' spaces were already cleaned out by the time the locker room doors opened up at the Atlantic Health Jets Training Center. For those who still had some organizing to do, it was a somber and frustrating moment to be packing up their belongings for the last time this year.
The Jets' dramatic comeback ran out of time on Sunday night in Pittsburgh and on Monday cornerback Darrelle Revis recognized what it will take for the Green & White to reach the next level.
"Be consistent, be more consistent," Revis said. "We made a lot of mistakes in the game yesterday in the first half. The way we played the second half, if we did that in the first half and played 60 minutes of it, we probably would have come out with a win."
The Jets let the Steelers jump out to a 24-0 lead in the first half, but beginning after the two-minute warning in the first half they settled down remarkably and scored 19 unanswered points. With just over three minutes left the Jets needed one more defensive stop to give their offense a chance to capitalize on what would have been yet another game-winning scoring drive, but the elusive Ben Roethlisberger was able to eke out two first downs to end the visitors' Super Bowl dreams.
"We played our hardest," T D'Brickashaw Ferguson said. "They have a great defense, a great offense. It just wasn't our time. We take a lot of pride in the fact that the last two years we've been back to the AFC Championship Games. We know we have a good team, we know that every year the team changes. I think we have a good nucleus, a good core and we'll just try again next year."
In fact, the Jets were the only team to be in the championship round in both 2009 and '10, and with the fantastic performance of quarterback Mark Sanchez over the final weeks of the season, the temperature of this team was boiling. The Jets showed heart and determination in their ability to win four road playoff games in two seasons. The leader of head coach Rex Ryan's defense, Bart Scott, reflected on his 2010 season in a Gotham Green jersey.
"I'm proud to be a part of this team," Scott said, "and proud to say I'm a New York Jet and proud to represent this city. And I hope this city is proud of its football team and what it tried to accomplish. It fell short of its goal, but I think hopefully they can appreciate the fight."
Looking around the locker room as players boxed up belongings and said their goodbyes to teammates and co-workers, many of the players reflected on the realization that the team will be markedly different next season. Regardless of how much this crew jelled and achieved 13 wins, the fact is that with retirement, free agency and the NFL draft, next season's group will not be the same as this year's version, whose biggest goal was to win a Super Bowl.
"I think it was just a missed opportunity," guard Brandon Moore said. "This team was assembled with some great players and I've never been around a better team. I just think about the missed opportunity that doesn't come around very often."
Revis was also melancholy about the fact that many players go years or entire careers without reaching the Super Bowl's doorstep, which the Jets have now done twice in the past two seasons. Linebacker Jason Taylor had never been to an AFC Championship Game in his 14-year career, so to his fellow defensive mate Revis, losing twice in a row really stings.
"Losses like that in a championship game, they always stick with you," Revis said. "They're key games that you have to win. So for me, personally, both of them are going to stick in my mind until we get over that hump. We need to get over that hump. We play this game for one reason. We play it to go to the Super Bowl and win it. Anything less than going to the Super Bowl is failure."
Although quarterback Mark Sanchez's eyes began to water a bit when he spoke about the high quality of and closeness between his teammates this season, the mood wasn't all sad on Monday. Moore disclosed that Ryan's message to the team was positive and forward-thinking. Although the 2011 team will appear quite unlike the one that left the locker room today, the foundation is there to be a part of an AFC Championship again next year, albeit hopefully with a better outcome.
"He just said how proud he was of us," Moore said. "We know the fact of the four teams from last year we were the only one that went back. To be in the final four two years in a row is a great accomplishment and he said we should be proud and hold each other accountable in the offseason."