No playoffs, but good vibes & more Rex for Jets

John Idzik handed the game ball to a teary Rex Ryan as the New

York Jets players cheered wildly.

Then, the general manager shouted above them, making a

declaration that said it all for the franchise.

”This is our coach!” Idzik yelled. ”This is our coach!”

That was the raucous scene moments after the Jets ended their

season Sunday with a 20-7 win over the Miami Dolphins – and owner

Woody Johnson announced that Ryan would return as coach.

As the players cleared out their lockers Monday at the team’s

facility and headed into the offseason, they were feeling pretty

good about their future despite an 8-8 season and a third straight

year of missing the playoffs.

”Obviously, as a team you want to peak at the end of the

season,” wide receiver David Nelson said. ”You want to play your

best ball at the end of the season and right now we’re doing that.

It’s just unfortunate that we weren’t able to make the playoffs

because, the way we’re playing right now, I feel like we could run

the table.”

The Jets won three of their last four games to finish at .500

and perhaps save Ryan’s job. Ryan was retained as coach after a few

months of speculation that he could be done after five seasons.

”When we found out, it was pure joy in the locker room,”

quarterback Geno Smith said. ”We were all happy for him and also

selfishly, I’m happy to have my coach back because we really enjoy

playing for him and we just look forward to the future here.”

Now, the Jets will focus on that future, with several issues to

consider, including whether Smith is their starting

quarterback.

”I’ve got plenty of room to improve,” he said. ”I’m going to

use this offseason to be extremely critical of myself and find

every single way to get better.”

He was forced into action when he won the training camp

competition by default when Mark Sanchez suffered a season-ending

shoulder injury in the third preseason game. The second-round pick

was up and down all season, looking at times like a bona fide

playmaker with four winning drives in the fourth quarter or

overtime in his first seven games. But at many others, Smith was a

mistake-prone turnover machine.

Ryan benched him at halftime of a brutal showing against Miami

on Dec. 1, a move that could prove to be a turning point in the

young quarterback’s development.

”I think it just lit a fire in me and just gave me that

competitive edge that was always there, but maybe needed to be

pulled to the forefront,” Smith said. ”It just allowed me to see

things from a better perspective and ultimately it was the right

decision.”

In his final four games, Smith threw for 790 yards, four

touchdowns and two interceptions with three victories. He finished

with just 12 touchdown throws and 21 interceptions, but the last

quarter of the season has some thinking the Jets have their

franchise quarterback in place.

”I think this team believes in Geno,” Nelson said, ”and the

way he’s played the last few weeks speaks for itself.”

Added receiver Josh Cribbs: ”He’s been improving all year. He’s

been making rookie mistakes, but he’s been making errors that you

expect a new quarterback to make in this league. I think that he

will only get better.”

Smith acknowledged that it’s ”extremely important” to know

that he’ll have the same coaches and offensive coordinator Marty

Mornhinweg’s system in place as he heads into his second season. He

also knows he has come a long way from his draft-day disappointment

when he slipped from the top 10 to the second round.

”It couldn’t (have) happened in a better way,” Smith said.

”Not only did it give me that fuel that I needed to go out and to

be that hard working guy every single day, but I landed in a great

spot, with a great team, great organization and I have a bright

future here.”

Idzik and Ryan will have plenty of other decisions to make,

including the likely moves to part ways with quarterback Mark

Sanchez and receiver Santonio Holmes to save money on the salary

cap. There are also several potential key free agents, including

right tackle Austin Howard, right guard Willie Colon and kicker

Nick Folk.

The Jets will also look to build on the momentum that capped a

season that they’re far from satisfied with despite grim preseason

expectations.

”Obviously, finishing with two (straight) wins, which is

something we weren’t able to do all year, was a good sign,” center

Nick Mangold said. ”It’s unfortunate, you hate to miss the

playoffs. That’s obviously one of the big downsides. But I love how

this team kept fighting, stuck together.

”It makes you excited to get the offseason going, get back in

here and get back to work.”

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org