It wasn't supposed to be this way. This wasn't the ending that was put in the script, not the ending that Rex Ryan talked about.
For the Jets though, regardless of all the feel-good stories, regardless of all the talk that they have a second-year quarterback who is still learning, regardless of people saying "Ignore Rex Ryan's crazy expectations," the season still ended in failure.
The Jets were the loudest team in the league this season. Constantly running their mouths and ending up in the headlines for all the wrong reason. From very early on, they drew the ire of the league. Last season, many casual fans threw their support behind the entertaining rookie head coach Rex Ryan. This season, those same fans became Jets haters because Ryan would never shut up.
The season started with the Jets being documented in training camp by HBO's Hard Knocks. They spent the entire five-week period talking about how they were going to win the Super Bowl.
As the season played out, radio hosts urged Jets fans not to judge their expectations against the lofty expectations of the Jets. Remember that the core of this team is still young, that Mark Sanchez is still learning.
The Jets then struggled in the regular season to beat teams with winning records, losing to the Ravens, Packers, Bears and of course, getting demolished by the New England Patriots. At that point, it looked like the Jets were going to be over-matched; there would be no repeat trip to the AFC Championship Game.
But then the Jets made the playoffs, and they beat Peyton Manning, and they followed that up by avenging a 45-3 loss and defeating Tom Brady and the Patriots. They were back in the AFC Championship game.
People began talking, regardless of the outcome of the AFC Championship Game; you had to be happy with the Jets' season. A second-year coach and a second-year quarterback going to back-to-back AFC championship games.
But that's not the case; the season has still ended in failure.
Regardless of your own personal goals, regardless of the growth of Mark Sanchez, regardless of his age and experience, regardless of Rex Ryan just showing bravado and running his mouth.
But the reality is the Jets threw their chips to the middle of the table for this season, possibly sacrificing their future in the process.
The Jets got around the final four rules of last year, and added several pieces to their roster for an uncapped season.
The Jets added Santonio Holmes, Jason Taylor and LaDainian Tomlinson. But now, this team, which Jason Taylor describes as magical and "the most fun team he's ever played for" will have to be disbanded.
Several key players will not be able to be brought back next season. The Jets have several players whose contracts have expired, and with a new CBA coming (hopefully), who knows how many players the Jets will be able to retain.
The Jets will likely have to choose between WRs Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes; each one brings his own specialty to the table. They will also have to find a way to bring back playmaker Brad Smith.
On defense, David Harris, Shaun Ellis, Jason Taylor and Antonio Cromartie will all become free agents. The Jets will have to evaluate which players they want back, factoring in their performance, but also hopefully remembering how important veteran leadership is.
The Jets have a tough choice to make. Almost every one of their free-agent players wants to return. Could the Jets bring them all back? Personally, they probably want to bring them all back, keeping the chemistry in the locker room together. Unfortunately, for a team trying to win the Super Bowl, ability speaks more than personal feelings.
When asked after the game, both Jason Taylor and LaDainian Tomlinson spoke of how they would love to return to the Jets, but both spoke about how the decision was in the hands of the Jets. From the sounds of their voices, it sounded like they believed the Jets would not be interested in bringing them back.
And what about Shaun Ellis? The longest-tenured Jet will become a free agent this season. Ellis is a big leader in the Jets locker room. But the Jets need guys who could put pressure on the quarterback, and aside from the playoff game against New England, Ellis failed to consistently do that this season. Is his pedigree as "Mr. Jet" enough to get him a new contract?
The time for the Jets to win was this season, and they should have done so.
The Jets pushed their chips to the middle of the table, and then they lost a game they should have won. For all the good things that happened, this season still ended in a failure.