FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Rex Ryan stood in front of his team for one last time and teared up.
This wasn’t exactly how the New York Jets pictured their season to end. But with his bold Super Bowl hopes dashed, Ryan couldn’t help but get emotional.
“I’m Irish. What do you want?” Ryan said Monday, trying to lighten the mood. “It’s hurtful and I’m extremely prideful. I want to be the best. I want to win. Sometimes it comes out like that.”
He had what some players called a “harsh” talk, telling his guys they needed to get back to being a team and not just a group of individuals.
“He was crying because he loves us,” guard Matt Slauson said Monday. “He respects us, he knows what we are capable of and we didn’t even come close to our goals.”
That’s for sure. This was the year the Jets were going to deliver the franchise its long-awaited second Lombardi Trophy. Ryan guaranteed it. And after two straight trips to the AFC championship game, who could doubt the possibility?
But the Jets (8-8) never really put it together and it was a somewhat surreal setting a day after a loss at Miami ended a disappointing season as the players cleared out their lockers.
“It’s not fun losing,” quarterback Mark Sanchez said.
Added Slauson: “We’re sick, we’re disappointed and we’re hurting a lot.”
And Ryan placed the blame squarely on himself.
“I don’t think I had the pulse of our team the way I’ve done in the past,” he said. “When I met with players as well today, I think that became clear to me.”
Several players were already gone when the media got to the locker room, and a few — including the normally media-friendly Darrelle Revis and Nick Folk — chose to not speak.
Linebacker Bart Scott bristled as he was walking out and was asked about a report that he likely wouldn’t be back next season. “All I know is I’ve got a guaranteed contract for $4 million,” he snarled. He then used an expletive at a photographer and stuck out his middle finger, adding: “Take a picture of this.”
That wasn’t all. Wide receiver Santonio Holmes, benched Sunday after arguing with teammates in the huddle, went to his locker, grabbed a box and a helmet and was then escorted out of the locker room by a public relations staff member without talking.
Holmes was still the hot topic Monday after he was yanked by offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer — a move Ryan supported, but didn’t know about when it first happened — as the Jets tried to rally in the fourth quarter. He was held without a catch for the first time in his 88-game career and sulked while standing alone on the sideline as the team lost 19-17, ending the Jets’ playoff chances.
“I wouldn’t single Santonio out like he was the sole problem,” receiver Patrick Turner said. “It’s a team sport and one’s wrong, we’re all wrong.”
Sanchez declined to comment on what went on with Holmes, saying it was an “in-house” issue that shouldn’t be discussed through the media. But ESPNNewYork.com reported that the two clashed at a meeting last week, and several players questioned Holmes’ captaincy throughout the season.
The Jets won’t have to worry about that next season. Ryan acknowledged that he “made a huge mistake” naming six team captains — he previously only had game captains — and no one will wear the captain “C” on their jersey anymore.
“I think that pulls away from the team a little bit,” Ryan said of having captains. “It may work for other franchises, but it doesn’t work for me.”
Holmes and guard Brandon Moore went back and forth earlier this season when the receiver criticized the offensive line for not protecting Sanchez or giving him enough time to throw long passes. Moore said that kind of talk could have “a fracturing effect” — and it appears he was right.
“There’s a lot of reasons we didn’t have the kind of season we wanted, and chemistry can go down on that list,” Moore said.
He declined to discuss whether a team could accept a player who was deemed by some to have “quit” back next season.
“I don’t really have anything to say about 10,” Moore said, referring to Holmes by his jersey number.
Ryan said there are “a lot of positive things about Santonio,” but acknowledged that there are also things that need to be improved and believes Holmes will return next season. Still, most players seemed to think there would be plenty of changes this offseason.
They could start with offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer, who has been criticized all year for failing to develop Sanchez and run an effective and consistent offense, which finished 25th overall.
Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum reiterated that they expect Schottenheimer to return next season — unless he’s hired as a head coach elsewhere. Tannenbaum, who said Schottenheimer has done “a really credible job,” confirmed that New York gave Jacksonville permission to speak to the 38-year-old coordinator for the Jaguars’ head coaching vacancy.
“I think the criticism specifically about Brian,” Ryan said, “I believe, is unfair.”
Sanchez has also been the subject of lots of criticism as he didn’t progress in his third year as many had hoped, but Tannenbaum said he’ll be the starting quarterback next season.
“I think Mark’s work speaks for itself,” Tannenbaum said. “I think it’s more good than bad and far from perfect. It has to be more consistent and I think if Mark was sitting right here he would be the first one to tell you.”
That vote of confidence came despite Sanchez throwing three interceptions against the Dolphins and doing little to cement his role as the Jets’ long-term answer at quarterback. He threw a career-high 26 touchdown passes, but seven of his 18 interceptions came in the last three games — all losses.
“My job is to come back a better quarterback, a better leader,” said Sanchez, who was unsure if he’d need further tests on his neck and right shoulder which bothered him late in the season.
The Jets will also have several major decisions to make on potential free agents, including Plaxico Burress, LaDainian Tomlinson, Jim Leonhard and Sione Pouha.
“My job is to build a team,” Ryan said. “For whatever reason, I don’t think we were as close as a football team as we were the first two years and now we are sitting on the outside looking in. We’re watching other teams in playoff games that we think we should be in. And I think that’s painful, beyond belief.”
Notes: Tannenbaum said the team will speak with offensive line coach Bill Callahan over the next few days about returning. His contract is up after this season, but Tannenbaum said “we hope to have him back.” … Slauson said he’ll have an MRI exam on one of his shoulders Tuesday to check out the nature of an injury that initially occurred late last season.
Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.