A few minutes after the Jets completed a winless preseason that has dramatically diminished many people's expectations of his team, Rex Ryan stood in a corner of the locker room Thursday night and said he doesn't care what outsiders think. He cares only about the players and coaches in the room with him.
"They're not my expectations, I can tell you that much," he told Newsday, a look of determination flashing across his face. "They're definitely not my expectations. I believe in this team. We'll see. We'll see."
There are plenty of skeptics who see a Jets team whose struggles on offense during the preseason will carry over into the regular season, but Ryan sees something different. And although he wasn't issuing a Super Bowl guarantee, he came awfully close, if you connect the dots.
"When it's all said and done, I think this will be the best team I've had since I've been here," Ryan said. "That's how I feel about it."
Best team since he's been here? Well, considering the Jets went to the AFC Championship Game in his first two seasons with the team, that's saying something.
"It's a close team," Ryan said. "Are we perfect? No, but I think we complement each other. The offense will complement the defense and the defense will complement the offense and special teams will complement the rest of the team."
Ryan mostly has stayed away from making brash statements this summer, in marked contrast with last season, when he regularly predicted the team would go to the Super Bowl. He admitted that those frequent proclamations actually hurt the team's psyche during what turned out to be an 8-8 season in which the Jets failed to reach the playoffs.
But with the Jets being heavily criticized after a poor preseason in which the starting offense failed to score a single touchdown, Ryan is sounding a more confident tone as the Sept. 9 regular-season opener against Buffalo approaches.
"I just sense that about this team," he said. "The coaching staff is close. I think that rubs off on the players, and I think that we're a team that cares about each other. I can see that. Is it perfect? We're not perfect, but I think we're trying to build that team, and I think what's probably going to be our strength is that fact that we're a team and we will play as a team, and I think that's going to go a long way for us."
When I mentioned to Ryan that he became animated when I brought up the notion of lowered expectations from outside the organization -- a look that indicated he was almost itching for a fight -- Ryan agreed.
"We'll fight, no question," he said. "But it's not just me that's ready to fight. This whole group will fight.''
Ryan's confidence has his team believing, even if many fans and critics are not.
"He said it, so it's gospel," linebacker Bart Scott said when told that Ryan believes this will be his best Jets team. Asked if he feels the same way, Scott replied, "Whatever Rex says."
All-Pro cornerback Darrelle Revis said he absolutely senses a very confident team despite the preseason struggles.
"It's all about confidence around this team,'' he said, "and that's what we've been focusing on."
But what about the 0-4 preseason, capped by last night's 28-10 loss to the Eagles?
"It's preseason," Revis said. "We don't have a lot going on game plan-wise. The games don't mean anything.''
Winless preseason a cause for concern? Not in this locker room. Not with this coach.
Nope. After a restrained preseason in which Rex let others do most of the talking, he's sounding a different tune. With the regular season now in sight, Rex is back to being Rex.