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Won't be a happy new year if Rex Ryan doesn't have a winning season

Rex Ryan looks on during a game against

Rex Ryan looks on during a game against the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium. (Dec. 29, 2013) Credit: Getty

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - America's happiest 8-8 team convened one final time Monday, less than 24 hours after they last were seen partying like it was 1969 in the visiting locker room at Sun Life Stadium.

These Jets were more reserved than they had been in the moments after they learned that Rex Ryan would return as coach, complete with passionate words of support from owner Woody Johnson and general manager John Idzik -- as seen in clips released by the team.

At one point, Idzik bear-hugged a teary Ryan and pointed at him, yelling: "This is our coach! This is our coach!"

But even as they cleaned out their lockers and scattered, players still were feeling pretty good about their world, far more so than the five .500 teams that were eliminated in Week 17.

"Hey, we finished the season strong," said defensive end Sheldon Richardson, the most dynamic member of a strong rookie class. "Of course, we didn't make the playoffs. It's not where we wanted to be, but if you're going to go out, why not be a spoiler?"

Why not? Especially compared with the alternative. A three-game losing streak that ended less than a month ago appeared to leave Ryan and rookie quarterback Geno Smith clinging precariously to their jobs.

Three victories in four games (and one hard-fought road loss to the Panthers) later, Johnson and Idzik were right to retain Ryan, and their players were within their rights to celebrate, given what seemed dire preseason prospects.

And in fairness, most players did acknowledge that missing the playoffs stung. Said Smith, "I feel we should have done better throughout the season."

Still, check out receiver David Nelson's description of Ryan's demeanor during Monday's team meeting:

"He was back to his old jolly self. Back to being Rex and being the funny, charismatic guy he is. He's always making jokes after we win a game. And he was back to the head coach we know. You could tell there was a little extra swagger to him today."

Swagger and 8-8 don't usually mix, and they certainly won't mix come Week 17 next season. So I hope everyone in Jets Land enjoyed the weekend, because that's over now.

If Ryan is the coach the players claim to love so much and in whom management has so much confidence and whom most Jets fans and media pundits wanted back, a fourth consecutive non-winning season won't cut it.

In 2014, Ryan still will have talent on defense, he no longer will have to ride a rookie quarterback's learning curve, and his two trips to the AFC Championship Game officially will be ancient history.

While Ryan did note in yesterday's meeting that the nature of the NFL is that some players will be gone by summer, he continued to lay on the college-corny vibe evident in that postgame locker-room video.

Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson said Ryan told the team "to stay together. Don't let anybody break us apart. Be smart in the offseason. Work hard. Wear your Jets stuff working out. Wear it proud."

Hey, that's Rex, and as long as the players buy in, who are the rest of us to question the methods? But all of us are allowed to question the results.

Eight-and-eight was reason to be proud in 2013. Feel free to toast it until midnight Tuesday. After that, time's up. Hello, 2014!

As Ryan said to his players immediately after Sunday's game, finishing the season with their first two-game winning streak was nice, but "I know one thing; we're going to get it done a hell of a lot earlier than that next year."

They had better.

New York Sports