FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — So close. So disappointing.
After the New York Jets held their playoff chances in their hands, the scene on the plane ride back home after a 22-17 loss in Buffalo on Sunday said it all — without anyone saying a word.
“It was quiet, man,” rookie linebacker Lorenzo Mauldin said Monday while clearing out his locker. “You could hear a pin drop.”
The Jets knew they blew it. Their loss — to their former coach, Rex Ryan, of all people — combined with Pittsburgh’s victory at Cleveland assured them of missing the postseason for the fifth straight year.
“It’s just kind of catastrophic,” Mauldin said, “to know we were that close and couldn’t get it done.”
Just like that, the good vibes from a five-game winning streak that had many wondering if these Jets (10-6) might make a deep run through the playoffs were over.
“I’m a little numb, a little disappointed,” said wide receiver Brandon Marshall, who was looking to reach the postseason for the first time in his 10-year NFL career.
Ryan Fitzpatrick is now at 11 years and no playoff appearances. He was a big reason the Jets were even in that position, having thrown 13 touchdown passes and just one interception during New York’s winning streak.
But the quarterback, scheduled to be a free agent this offseason, also contributed to the team’s demise with interceptions on each of the Jets’ final three drives Sunday.
“Whether it’s a win or a loss, my wife laughs at me because I usually wake up at 4:30 with my eyes open and the game running through my head, good and bad,” Fitzpatrick said. “I went through a similar thing this morning, just waking up early and thinking about it a little bit and obviously coming in here today and seeing the guys and being able to reflect a little bit on the good moments as well as some of the struggles.
“It’s always helpful to grieve with other people.”
There was quite a bit of that in the 24 hours since the Jets’ season came to an end. Players hugged as they filled black plastic bags, and there was talk of what everyone’s offseason plans were.
For most, though, those conversations came earlier than expected.
“When your season ends on a low point like it did yesterday, it leaves a bad taste in your mouth,” cornerback Marcus Williams said. “What you were playing for and would’ve happened and what should’ve happened, it’s a bad taste.”
New York had one final shot at a comeback Sunday, but Fitzpatrick’s desperation heave was knocked out of Kenbrell Thompkins’ hands in the closing seconds. Fitzpatrick’s next pass was intercepted.
“I would have scored, 100 percent,” Thompkins said.
“That would’ve been good,” a smiling Fitzpatrick said.
The Jets opened the season 4-1, but then struggled through a 1-4 stretch that had them sitting at .500 and on the verge of falling out of the postseason hunt.
Coach Todd Bowles deftly handled the rockiest point of his first year on the job by rallying his players. But with the season on the line Sunday, the Jets couldn’t finish the job.
“We lost and we owned it,” Bowles said. “We made some strides, but we didn’t make enough strides. From where we came from, we got better, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
It will be a busy offseason for the Jets, with several key players scheduled to be free agents: Fitzpatrick; nose tackle Damon Harrison; defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson; running backs Chris Ivory, Bilal Powell and Stevan Ridley; and linebackers Calvin Pace and Demario Davis.
Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan will also have important decisions to make in their second offseason with the team on some hefty contracts, such as cornerback Antonio Cromartie and left tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson. They’ll also have to determine whether they’ll want quarterback Geno Smith back, potentially as Fitzpatrick’s backup again.
“I think the core is in good shape,” Bowles said. “We’ve just got to build around it.”
NOTES: Wilkerson broke his right leg Sunday and will have surgery to repair the fibula within the next week. … RG Willie Colon, who finished the season on injured reserve with chronic knee issues, acknowledged that retirement could be next. “I do (want to play), but that’s my mind talking and my heart,” Colon said. “My body might be saying something else.” … Seldom-used WR Jeremy Kerley, who had 16 catches, said “of course” he’d like to be back next season, but said “maybe, maybe not,” when asked if he thinks he played his last game with the Jets. … Marshall, selected to the Pro Bowl, said he will play in the game after previously being uncertain. He’s looking forward to taking a team photo in his Jets uniform. “I want to be able to show my kids that I made the Pro Bowl as a Jet,” he said.
(TM and © Copyright 2016 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2016 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)