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Jets coach Ryan is still optimistic

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- Now that was one wacky, made-for-TV season.

Big-name players. Trash talk. Scandals. Controversies. And, another run at the Super Bowl that fell just short.

Boy, Rex Ryan and the New York Jets have their work cut out to produce a compelling sequel to this one.

"I think that our best is still yet to come," an ever-confident Ryan said Monday, a day after the Jets' 24-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC Championship Game.

Say this much about Ryan: At least he's consistent.

He has been talking up his team since he took over as coach two years ago, so why stop now? The Jets (13-6) made it within a game of the Super Bowl in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history, although Ryan boldly scribbled "Soon To Be Champs" on an ESPN bus during training camp.

"Maybe when I said that," Ryan said, "I just don't know when that [will be], but I believe it. In my heart, I believe we'll be champs."

That confidence is what endears Ryan to his players -- and also makes him such a target. He rubs some the wrong way with his bluster, while others eat up his "I'm just being me" style. But, through it all, he has already changed the perception of a franchise that lacked an identity and a winning tradition.

"The fact that we didn't reach our goal this year, clearly that's a disappointment, but it doesn't mean we had a bad season," Ryan said. "We had a heck of a season when you look at it. How close are we to realizing our goal? We're pretty darn close."

The players certainly won't argue that, not after the Jets were the only team in the NFL to be one of the last four playoff teams remaining in each of the last two seasons.

"At this point, we're right there," said quarterback Mark Sanchez, who took a significant step forward in his second season. "We're so close. As hard as it is, we're just knocking on the door."

But, Ryan and the rest of the franchise were hoping to kick in the door on a championship this year. The Jets fell short.

"We've got to find a way to win our division and that's no easy task," Ryan said. "It seems like nobody else in the league can beat [New England], so we've got to find ways to beat Green Bay, to beat Baltimore, to beat these other teams that we lost to."

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