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Jets beat Dolphins in season finale, but Rex Ryan's future with team still in doubt

Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York

Head coach Rex Ryan of the New York Jets celebrates with players and coaches following a win over the Miami Dolphins at Sun Life Stadium on Dec. 28, 2014 in Miami Gardens, Fla. Credit: Getty Images / Mike Ehrmann

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - This is the end.

Rex Ryan knows it.

So do his players.

Though a formal announcement hadn't yet arrived, Jets players spoke of their future -- one that no longer includes Ryan as their coach. Some even spoke of Ryan in the past tense.

"It feels like it,'' Willie Colon said as he stood outside Sun Life Stadium on his way to the team bus Sunday. "We have a 4-12 season, we're not making the playoffs for a fourth year -- the business side of it tells you change is coming. It feels like he'll be gone. I feel it. And hopefully, I'm wrong.''

After the Jets' 37-24 win over the Dolphins -- a game that included career days by Geno Smith and Eric Decker -- the focus turned to Ryan's tenure with the team. And although he tried his best to avoid the questions, he strongly hinted that he expects to be a goner.

"I mean, I think we all expect what's going to happen is going to happen,'' he said when reminded that a year earlier, owner Woody Johnson had announced that Ryan would be returning for 2014 in the visitors' locker room in Miami after the Jets' Week 17 win. "We'll find out in due time. Whenever that is, I think, we generally know when these thing happen.''

The decision is expected to be announced Monday.

Though he repeatedly said his postgame news conference wasn't "the appropriate time'' to discuss his situation, Ryan made it clear that he doesn't fear the unknown -- or getting fired.

"Just understand that I'm not afraid of anything,'' he said. "I'm not afraid of what lies ahead, I can tell you that.''

He said he didn't have a timetable for when he would sit down with Johnson but added, "Woody will talk to me when he feels it's the appropriate time.''

Johnson and general manager John Idzik -- who also is expected to be fired -- offered little comment after the game.

"It's all about the players,'' Johnson said while being whisked down the hallway outside the locker room.

Later, Idzik gave a terse, "I'll get you guys later.''

Ryan has tried to deflect the attention surrounding his job status for quite some time. And he implored his players to ignore it during their pregame meeting Saturday night.

"He told us not to play for him,'' Calvin Pace said. "But deep down, everyone was playing for him. It's only right to send him out with a win.''

And the Jets did just that.

Smith went 20-for-25 for a career-high 358 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions and had a perfect 158.3 quarterback rating. He's the first Jets starting quarterback with a perfect rating in a win since Ken O'Brien (vs. New England in 1990).

Decker (10 catches for 221 yards) became the first Jets receiver since Rich Caster in 1972 to gain 200 yards in a game.

It was the first win of 2014 against an AFC East opponent for the Jets (4-12), who scored the final 23 points to erase a 24-14 deficit, and it symbolized a lot more than that for the players, who expressed their desire to continue playing for Ryan.

When asked about the effect Ryan's departure would have on the Jets, Leger Douzable said: "It changes a lot. When you think of the Jets, you think of Rex Ryan. It's hard to imagine him not being here. The identity of the Jets has always been Rex Ryan and a great defense. If he ain't here, what do you look at the Jets as?''

Ryan told the CBS broadcast team that being a defensive coordinator is not an option for him, adding that he's "not coaching someone else's defense.''

His time coaching the Jets' defense appears to have run out. But he and his players did their best to enjoy the win.

Nick Folk's 26-yard field goal tied the score at 24 with 6:35 left in the third quarter. His 23-yarder made it 27-24 with 14:12 to go.

The Jets were able to protect their three-point lead with the help of a gutsy fake punt call with just over four minutes to go. On fourth-and-12 from the Jets' 39, punter Ryan Quigley completed a 38-yard pass to Zach Sudfeld. On the next play, Smith hit Jeff Cumberland for a 23-yard TD that made it 34-24 with 3:22 left. And when it was all over, the players made their pitch to keep their coach.

"I had never played for a coach who embodies believing in his players like Rex does,'' Pace said. "Rex is built for this division, I think. We just haven't gotten it done. In my opinion, he's the perfect guy for New York, the perfect guy to face the Patriots, the Dolphins, the Bills. It's just -- I don't know, I don't know what happens. I pray for the best, but you just never know.''

Said David Harris: "He's one of us and he's one of the best defensive minds in pro football. And you'd be a fool playing linebacker and not want to play in this defense. He makes it fun to come to work every day, no matter the situation.''

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