Over two weeks have passed since we lost to the Buffalo Bills in Week 17, eliminating our playoff hopes.
Adjusting to being home again at the onset of an off-season—having to transition from the demands of the regular season—takes some time. There is a certain rhythm to the day that vanishes. No more workouts, no more meetings, just simply watching games of other NFL teams whose seasons didn’t end when ours did.
Playing football isn’t easy. Every organization wants to win, and when that doesn’t happen, changes inevitably ensue. At the conclusion of the 2014 season, after we finished 4–12, the Jets removed general manager John Idzik, head coach Rex Ryan and his staff. This news had been rumored for some time, but it wasn’t until we heard about it first on ESPN, as we were finishing up our meals in the cafeteria heading into our final team meeting of the year, that we knew the truth. The tension as we walked into the room was discomforting. Owner Robert “Woody” Johnson addressed the team, followed by a video message left by Rex Ryan who extolled his appreciation for being part of the organization and thanked the players. As we left that meeting we all were very uncertain of what the future of the Jets would hold.
During the off-season, the Jets hired consultants to assist in the hiring of a new general manager and head coach, ultimately selecting Mike Maccagnan and Todd Bowles. Interestingly enough, it wasn’t very long before Rex Ryan rebounded as the new head coach of the Bills, taking with him many members of his Jets staff. As a player who played six years for Rex Ryan, I was pretty certain that Rex, now a divisional opponent, would relish the opportunity to play the Jets not once, but twice a year.
One of the striking qualities of Coach Bowles is his ability to analogize football with the sport of boxing. Each game is a round. We have 16 of them in the fight against our opponent, the regular season. When our team dealt with adversity, such as injuries or unexpected occurrences like suspensions or locker room mishaps, he referred to those as body blows. Though the Bills stood in our way in a 22–17 loss in Week 10, we knew it would be the accumulation of rounds or games won that inevitably would determine our fate.
Facing Buffalo again at the end of the year in order get into the playoffs was ironic. Two years ago the Jets faced the Dolphins and like us, they were one win away from entering the playoffs. The Jets soured Miami’s plans and ended their season. Now we faced our former coach, who found himself in the same situation. History does not repeat itself, right?
The game started off slow, and as we tried to find a rhythm, mistakes were made. As each quarter passed and less time remained on the clock, the sense of urgency heightened and the moment of truth was coming. Down 22–17, a two-minute drill in the fourth quarter would be one of our final chances to win and reach the postseason.
I remember going against my defender Jerry Hughes, and on this particular play, he and defensive tackle Marcell Dareus ran a stunt that admittedly caught me off guard. The result was a hit on the quarterback, causing the ball to float unwillingly into the hands of the opposition. I wish I could have responded to that stunt differently. I wish I could take the play back. You win as a team and you lose as a team, but when you are personally involved in plays that didn’t go well, you feel that burden just a bit more. Shortly after, the clock hit zero, we ran out of time and I couldn’t believe what just happened.
We were confident going into the game and truly believed we were the better team, so losing to Rex was aggravating and disheartening.
I tried to stay objective and appreciate the wild-card games, but inside I was dissatisfied. The road to the front door of the playoffs had been a long one, and recognizing that we would now not be allowed inside was devastating. Whether it was the blowout win by Kansas City against Houston or the missed field goal by Minnesota’s kicker against Seattle, you can never tell how a game is going to end before it is played.
I decided I’d had enough after wild-card weekend. At that point, I wasn’t concerned with who won or lost the second round of the playoffs, so it didn’t really do much for me hearing that Pittsburgh lost or that Seattle, though amassing a respectable second-half comeback, fell short to Carolina. However, I was irritated when I heard that the New England Patriots won their contest against the Chiefs. I didn’t even attempt to watch their game, as I was indifferent to the outcome. Or so I thought. As soon as I turned on the television and flipped through the channels, I briefly saw Rob Gronkowski talking with the reporter after the game and I said to myself "of course they won," shaking my head in frustration.
All we can do now is wait our turn. Next season can't come soon enough.