FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Rex Ryan's humility comes with an expiration date -- 24 hours.
One day after losing the AFC Championship Game for the second straight year, the New York Jets coach was back to being his brash self.
While predicting another big season in 2011, Ryan managed to take a shot at the New England Patriots, whom they defeated in two of three meetings -- including a stunning upset in the divisional playoffs.
"This isn't just about beating New England because, quite honestly, we've done a pretty good job of it," Ryan said of his team goals. "It seems like nobody else in the league can beat them, so we've got to find ways to beat Green Bay, to beat Baltimore, to beat these other teams we lost to."
Like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who jumped to a 24-0 lead in the AFC title game and hung on for a 24-19 victory. Ryan said it was "brutal to watch" the game on tape, but rather than dwelling on the negatives, he looked to the future and vowed to contend again next season. He recalled the day in training camp, when he signed "Soon to be champs" on an ESPN banner.
"Are we guaranteed we're going to a Super Bowl? Maybe when I said that -- soon to be champs -- I just didn't know when that was, but I believe it," he said. "In my heart, I'll believe that we'll be champs."
From the moment they reported to training camp, where they became reality-TV stars on HBO's "Hard Knocks," the Jets made it clear this was a Super Bowl-or-bust season. They became the NFL's poster boys for trash talking, raising expectations.
After beating the Indianapolis Colts and Patriots on the road in the playoffs, the Jets soared into Pittsburgh, confident they'd end the franchise's 42-year Super Bowl drought. They fell, hard, making for a somber mood as they cleaned out their lockers on the day after.
"This is the year we were supposed to take that next step and win it, and we didn't," running back Shonn Greene said.
Guard Brandon Moore, who revealed he will have off-season hip surgery, said, "Everybody understood what this team was built for, and the failures that went along with that really hurts. We've got a team that could be playing next week."
The Jets geared up for a championship run, acquiring LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Cromartie, Jason Taylor and Santonio Holmes. Not one of them is a lock to return in 2011. Cromartie and Holmes will be free agents, Taylor is pondering retirement and Tomlinson could be squeezed out by a youth movement in the backfield.
Ryan didn't provide any answers with regard to the future of specific players, claiming the uncertainty of the league's labor situation makes it difficult to forecast the roster make-up. Other popular veterans such as Shaun Ellis, Damien Woody and Kris Jenkins face uncertain futures as well.
Ellis, Holmes, Tomlinson and Braylon Edwards (another free agent) were conspicuously absent on "baggy" day. Ellis, the longest-tenured Jet, removed everything from his locker stall -- the only player to leave a bare locker. Ellis is a free agent, upset last offseason that the team spurned his request for a contract extension.
Holmes didn't show up to explain his cryptic remarks from the post-game locker room, where he questioned offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer for removing him for a handful of plays early in the game. Ryan didn't seem pleased with Holmes' comments.
"No, that's not the way I like to operate," he said. "It talks about the emotions you're feeling at the time."
Ryan said he'd like to have the same team for next season, but he knows that's impossible. The coach did clarify one issue, saying Schottenheimer will be back.
"Yes, absolutely," Ryan said.
In his final team meeting, Ryan focused on the positive, saying they were the only repeat team in the league's final four.
"That's not a fluke," Ryan told reporters. "That means we're a heck of a football team. It means we're a consistent football team." And he added, "I don't think you want to play the Jets next year. That's just my personal opinion."
Was that a parting shot or a warning flare?