FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — The smile is gone from Calvin Pryor’s face as he looks ahead to a meaningless regular-season finale against the Bills, a game that comes almost exactly a year after the final game against the same team, yet under drastically different circumstances.
Back then, the Jets were coming off a 26-20 overtime win against their rival Patriots and prepared to face the Bills with a chance to reach the playoffs. It was an exhilarating time for Pryor and his teammates, many of whom had never been to the playoffs.
That dream ended in a 22-17 loss at Ralph Wilson Stadium, as Ryan Fitzpatrick unraveled in the fourth quarter and the Jets’ postseason hopes were vanquished. A year later, there is no dream, only the long-awaited conclusion to a nightmare of a season that will leave Pryor and his teammates again lamenting what might have been. After a 41-3 embarrassment against the Patriots last Saturday dropped the Jets’ record to 4-11, they host a Bills team that fired Rex Ryan on Tuesday and is about to finish its own failed season.
The 24-year-old safety looks around the room and shakes his head when he’s asked what has to happen for this team to turn things around moving forward. He gets to the unvarnished truth almost immediately.
“The culture needs to change,” Pryor told Newsday. “We need to get guys who are winners, who want to win. I definitely think the culture has to change in order for us to go be successful.”
Pryor will not name names about which players he believes don’t have the requisite passion to win, nor will he accuse coach Todd Bowles of failing to create the necessary vibe in the locker room. In fact, he said Bowles has “done a great job, just having the guys he wants in this locker room.” It’s just that there aren’t enough. .
“We need to get guys who want to get in this locker room, do things (Bowles’) way, and go about things the right way,” he said.
Is Pryor on board with his coach?
“Hell yeah, I’m on board,” he said. “I’m about winning, man. Go check my resume. I know about winning. College (at Louisville), I won. High school (Port St. Joe in Florida), I won. Even at the Pee Wee football level I won. I’m about winning. I want to play with winners. I could care less for superstars and everything else. I just want to win.”
Is there enough in this locker room to win?
“No,” he said. “Frankly, it’s not enough. It’s self-proving. The results are right on the table. I’d be foolish to say there’s enough if we’re not winning.”
Pryor can’t hide his frustration.
“This is my third year in the NFL, and I haven’t been to the playoffs yet,” he said. “The mentality of winning and doing things you’ve never done, achieving more and things like that. That needs to change. I think everybody wants to win, but at the same time, it’s about are you going about things the right way? That’s what needs to change in this locker room.”
He admits there is no immediate indication of a quick turnaround.
“Do I think we have a great team that has a chance to win the Super Bowl right now? I don’t think so,” he said. “I think we need more, and I think a lot of people would say the same thing. The record shows it.”
Pryor has an ally in Mo Wilkerson who agrees there needs to be a culture change moving forward. And Wilkerson vows to be a part of that change, especially after his brief benching earlier this season for missing a team meeting, something that actually kindled a realization of his need to be a better leader.
“Some of the things that went on this year can’t happen next year,” Wilkerson, who declined to be specific about what those things were, told Newsday. “Whatever things didn’t go as planned this year on the field or off the field, we’ve just got to make sure those things doesn’t happen next year.”
He knows he needs to be a more vocal leader.
“I think the issues that I had earlier in the season, I addressed it with the team, moved on from and I just feel like I have to do more as a leader,” he said. “I don’t really speak too much, try to lead by example as best I can, but coming out of my comfort zone and speaking up more is important.”
Is there enough here for a quick turnaround next year? Wilkerson can’t say for sure, other than that a better attitude needs to be a factor.
“It’s a new team every year, and everybody knows that after Sunday, this locker room won’t be the same. Whatever changes are made during the off-season, they’ll be made and we’ve just got to make sure we change the culture and don’t repeat what happened this year.”
The end of a lost year is nearly upon them, and all that’s left is to reflect on what went wrong and try to fix it moving forward. Pryor and Wilkerson aim to be part of the solution.