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Ryan, Jets optimistic about their future after surprising season

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan was so pleased with his team's surprising playoff run this season, he's clearing out his wardrobe.

Only green and white from now on for the New York Jets' coach.

"You won't see me in nothing but Jets gear because I believe," Ryan said Monday before taking yet another shot at his king-sized build. "And the fact that there are 4X."

All kidding aside, the Jets proved they were no joke after coming within one win of going to the Super Bowl. Any disappointment from their 30-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game was overshadowed by pride as the Jets began thinking about next season.

"I told our players to wear their Jets stuff and be proud of it," Ryan said. "There's no reason we shouldn't be proud to be a New York Jet. This isn't the 'Same Old Jets,' and any negative connotation that way is crazy. Like I said, punch somebody in the nose for it if that's the case.

"That's the way we feel because our football team is tough. We are resilient, and I think we are going to get back."

It's tough to argue with Ryan, considering the Jets (11-8) were able to reach the conference championship game with a first-year head coach, a rookie quarterback and a new defensive system. They also were able to overcome injuries to key players such as Leon Washington and Kris Jenkins and a dismal stretch that appeared to ruin their playoff chances.

"Rex came in here and laid down the law and said how things were going to be," center Nick Mangold said. "We took it to heart and ran with it."

They sure did, all the way to Indianapolis, where they were 30 minutes from their first Super Bowl appearance in 41 years before Colts quarterback Peyton Manning took charge.

"Even after looking at that film, we still lost, and we deserved to lose," Ryan said. "They won the game, no question about it. It's a nightmare watching Peyton Manning do that again to us."

The Jets' top-ranked defense failed to shut down Manning and the Colts' offense in the second half after Mark Sanchez helped New York to a 17-13 halftime lead. Still, the defense played well most of the season and should be even better with the return of Jenkins, who tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in October.

All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis had an incredible season, shutting down top wide receivers on a weekly basis, and is being asked by Ryan to become even more of a vocal leader.

"We had a great run," Revis said. "When people didn't believe we could do it, we made a way."

Ryan called it a "yo-yo season," one in which the Jets started 3-0, lost six of their next seven and then closed out the regular season with five wins in their last six games to make the playoffs.

"We started great and then we about hit rock bottom, came right back up again," Ryan said, "and then unfortunately, (Sunday) night, we hit rock bottom again, because there's no tomorrow."

There also was an incredible lucky streak in which the Colts pulled their starters in Week 16, giving up a chance at a perfect season, and the Jets took advantage. New York benefited the following week when Cincinnati came to town with little to gain, and the Jets beat the Bengals, too. Meanwhile, all the teams ahead of them in the playoff race kept losing.

"There was a point where we could've just tanked," Sanchez said. "But the way these guys are in this locker room, how excited we are to play for each other, and how Rex got us going, we just want to play for each other and win some games."

While the top-ranked running game thrived behind Thomas Jones' career-high 1,402 rushing yards, Sanchez struggled mightily with turnovers. Then, as the games became more important, the rookie began playing like a seasoned veteran.

"I think we saw our future, I really do," Ryan said of Sanchez. "I want to be, and I know all our fans want me to be, more multiple I'm sure on offense, instead of just the run first, run second, run third-type mentality."

Ryan established a brash, confident mentality the moment he was hired as the coach a year ago, making it clear he's never afraid to say what's on his mind. For a franchise sorely lacking an identity, Ryan took care of all that by himself.

"We believed in him as the season went on," safety Kerry Rhodes said. "A lot of the things he said came to fruition, even though we didn't meet the President. We got pretty close."

Ryan warned his players that it's no given they'll be back in this spot again next season. But they all believe there's much more to come, starting next season -- and maybe with a home AFC title game.

"Let's play this game in front of our fans and our stadium, the New Jets Stadium," Ryan said with a smile. "That's going to be (the name of) it when we play in it. I can't wait. We get our stadium, and we are not the visitors in our stadium. This is our stadium. We are the biggest show in town, and that's what it's going to be."

Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press

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