The lockers were empty, but the the heads were held high a day after the Jets came up 30 minutes short of the Super Bowl.

 

If this was supposed to be Rex Ryan’s building year, imagine the possibilities next season.

 

Most of the Jets core is very young. Rookies Mark Sanchez and Shonn Greene played like veterans in the playoffs. Every player on the Jets’ starting defense hasn’t hit age 30. And only the offensive line is old by NFL standards, with three players in their 30s, but still very much capable of being impact players for the next few seasons.

 

“The best is yet to come, we truly believe that,” center Nick Mangold said.”

If Mangold’s assertion is accurate, the Jets will finally break their Super Bowl drought of 41 years. They almost did it this season, rolling to five straight road victories before getting bumped by the Colts on Sunday, 30-17, in the AFC championship.

“We’ve proven we’re tough. A lot of teams aren’t going to want to play us,” tight end Dustin Keller said. “We’re definitely going to be a team to watch out for next year.”

This wasn’t a one-hit wonder, Ryan said yesterday. These Jets, who led the league in rushing and defense, won’t run from a fight and they won’t be a afraid to start one, either. The boisterous first-year coach even went so far as to insist his players ‘punch somebody in the nose’ if they so much as hint that his team isn’t one of the toughest in the league.

“This will not be the ‘same old Jets.’ I think we laid that foundation,” safety Jim Leonhard said.

“The fans should have that confidence now. We’re moving forward and we’re going to be a contender year-in and year-out.”