This touches on a lot of the same points Ryan hit upon before, but I wanted to get my thoughts out there as well. I think there are two perspectives we all should take looking at last night's defeat.
The first is the short run. In that perspective, it is difficult to paint a pretty picture. The Jets fell a game short of the Super Bowl and two wins short of their ultimate goal for the second straight year. For an entire year, they focused on not falling 30:00 short again. That is exactly what happened, only the disaster was in the first half instead of the second half this time around.
It was a bitter disappointment. I would argue considering all of the expectations, the talent, and the memory of last season, it was the most painful loss in franchise history. Sure, there have been some heartbreakers in the past, but they usually involved an undermanned squad that really had no business competing with its opponent in the first place. Even had those teams advanced, winning it all was unlikely aside from the 1998 team in Denver. This year the Jets had a team capable of beating anybody and lost because it played poorly. It's a different kind of pain.
There is a bigger picture, though. Once the heartbreak wears off, it will become evident just how successful this team was. The Jets won 11 games in the regular season. Any team that does that in the NFL has had a heck of a year. They were one of the last four standing for the second straight season. Tack that onto 11 regular season wins, and you've had a really special year. Not only that, but this team finally showed an ability to stand toe to toe with its nemesis, the Patriots and win when it matters most. There is no longer a monopoly of domination on the AFC East. We also saw a franchise quarterback step forward when the pressure was at its highest. There is plenty to build upon.
This year the Jets announced that they are one of the elite teams in football. It was easy to write off last year's success. Detractors could say they snuck into the Playoffs with 9 wins. They got lucky with the Colts resting their starters in Week 16. They got hot at the right time. The Chargers and Bengals missed a bunch of field goals. After a second straight deep Playoff run, nobody can argue last year was a fluke. This team is at the top of the league. With the foundation of big talent still very young in guys like Mark Sanchez, Shonn Greene, Nick Mangold, Dustin Keller, D'Brickashaw Ferguson, Darrelle Revis, and David Harris, this team is here to stay.
For the first time I can ever remember, the Jets have an identity. An opposing team and its fans know when they get the Jets, they are going to get a physical game with a team that has a top defense. Two years ago, I saw a lot of people mock Rex Ryan for announcing his team would meet President Obama before his first term was up. Nobody thinks that is very funny anymore. He said he wanted opponents to circle the game on the calendar and realize, "The Jets are coming." They do just that now.
I have seen plenty of opposing fans talk about how they hate the Jets. That is a good thing. Baseball Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson once said, "They don't boo nobodies." The Jets are hated because they are good. They used to be fun to kick around. I know their brashness makes them a lot of enemies, but brashness alone isn't enough to inspire hate. A team that talks a big game and doesn't back it up gets laughed at, not hated. Deep down, I think a lot of fans wish their team had the kind of front office and coaching staff the Jets have to aggressively find talent and get the most out of it. Look at what Rex Ryan has gotten out of his defense and the individual players he has improved, and tell me he doesn't make a big positive difference. Fans of established powers are frustrated that they have another big boy to deal with. A team being hated is a sign of respect.
I don't think Super Bowl expectations are wrong for the team or its fans. The team itself had better have a Super Bowl or bust mentality. It is also fine for fans to hope for a Super Bowl. This team has enough talent. Only one team can win the Super Bowl each year, though. Football fandom would be pretty empty if you could only get enjoyment out of that. The Jets had a great year. They are close. I think they are going to get to the ultimate destination soon. They didn't this time, but when I think back to the 2010 New York Jets season in the future, my first thought won't be of last night. It will be of the picture above and other great memories like it. Think about it. Many considered this year's defense a disappointment. It was third best in the league. This season was a relative disappointment because the Jets only got within a game of the Super Bowl. We're pretty lucky.