Rex Ryan's feelings the day after were almost indescribable. It was a bit difficult for the rookie coach to explain the kind of sensation bouncing throughout his body as he sauntered through the Jets' training complex Sunday.
Left virtually for dead only three weeks ago, the Jets are right in the thick of the race for the Lombardi Trophy, living it up and enjoying their "pinch me'' moment. Saturday's 24-14 wild-card victory over the Bengals inched them closer to their ultimate goal, once seemingly unthinkable.
"I think you realize that you've taken one giant step forward in trying to accomplish your mission," Ryan said Sunday. "It breaks down to this: If we can win three games, we are world champions. And that's all you need - motivation, everything like that.
"That feeling you get and that excitement, energy - whatever it is - it's great and you want to grab hold of it. As good as it is, you want to keep that feeling."
It gets more difficult by the week in the postseason, though, given the quality of opponent and the added pressure that comes along with knowing that millions of eyes are fixated on your every move. Things surely will get cranked up a notch Sunday when the Jets square off against the No. 2-seeded Chargers in an AFC divisional matchup at Qualcomm Stadium.
San Diego (13-3) hasn't lost since falling to Denver on Oct. 19. The Chargers average 28.4 points, fourth-best in the league, and have a bevy of talent on both sides of the ball.
"When you look at San Diego, they are winners of 11 straight," Ryan said. "They are rolling right now, especially on offense. Their lowest total for the year is 20 points. That's pretty amazing. I've been on teams where it seems like the most points we ever scored is 20. We know we are going to have our work cut out for us."
So, too, will the Chargers, if you ask Ryan. The Jets are a confident bunch and have grabbed hold of a ploy by Ryan, who handed them an entire postseason schedule that even includes the day they'll hold a Super Bowl parade.
Ryan wants to get them focused on the final prize. He hopes Saturday's convincing win was just the start, and the outcome validated his belief in his team even when others kept talking about the Jets "backing" into the playoffs.
"If someone wants to take us lightly, we can run right through them also," Ryan said. "It doesn't bother me one bit what people think. We know the kind of team we have, so that's all fine and dandy. But I can promise you this: People are going to look at us and not want to play us."
This was pegged as a steppingstone season for the Jets because they feature a rookie quarterback in Mark Sanchez. They may have surpassed the expectations of some, and everything else at this point could be looked at as gravy, but Ryan isn't about to let complacency settle in with so much on the line.
"I guess maybe people feel that way, but that hasn't been the way we've felt," Ryan said. "All year, we've had one goal as an organization and we are a long way away from it. So it's great to get a win and it's great that people think we've had a great season already. But for us, I came here to win a championship and that's what our goal is. To us, if we don't accomplish it, it's not necessarily a bad year. But it would be one that's not fulfilled."
Their coffee mug isn't empty just yet, though.
"It's so close right now," Ryan said, "that you can almost taste it."
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