Final Goodbye to 2002 Season
2003-01-14 12:00:00

The most chilling aspect of the National Football League season is its end. There is a unique finality to it all.

In this case, the players return from a cross country trip, get maybe four hours of sleep, return to the complex, clean their lockers, attend a team meeting, and then meet with the press.

By nighttime, there is eerie silence.

When the Jets did speak Monday, they focused on some of their great seasonal achievements. After an ominous 2-5 start, the Jets earned their second consecutive playoff berth under Herman Edwards and won their first playoff game since the 1998 season.

?If you told me this football team was going to win 20 games, make two playoff appearances in a row, and win a division, they could have given me less money and I would have took it because I know how hard that it is to do,? Herman Edwards said before a packed press-room at Weeb Ewbank Hall.

Tailback Curtis Martin, who ran for over 1,000 yards for an eighth consecutive season despite playing banged up, has repeatedly stated that this was one of his most rewarding seasons. The always-thoughtful Martin had a hard time seeing Gang Green’s run finally come to a close.

?I have been around death a lot in my lifetime, and I kind of felt that way today,? Martin said. ?I can’t equate a game with life, but at the same time, it was just that same emptiness. You try to think about the good things. You try to think about the past times you had, the good memories together.?

Sunday’s loss at Oakland will not be a good offseason memory for New York quarterback Chad Pennington. The 26-year old, first-year starter was uncharacteristically inconsistent in the Jets 30-10 loss and the young quarterback endured a physical beating. Early this week, Pennington was talking about building on this season’s successes.

?This team accomplished a lot this year,? Pennington said. ?To be able to experience all of the adversity and the emotional roller coaster that we went through as a team, we still made some history and we were able to win a division for, what, only the second time in Jets history. We were able to take it another step further in the playoffs from last year. The good thing; I think we have a good group and a good core around us to be able to expect some great things next year too.?

One of the hottest Jets to end this football year was nose tackle Jason Ferguson. Fergie believes the Jets made a statement to the league with their dramatic late rally.

?We know that we aren’t going to go out there and quit,? Ferguson said. ?We have a core group here that won’t give up. We want to get better. We didn’t accomplish everything we wanted to by just getting to the playoffs. I think we made a statement to the league by coming back from 1-4 and 2-5 starts.?

Edwards reminded everyone that only one team will rest comfortably in a few weeks. The Jets are not the only ones who will fall short of their championship dreams.

?There is only one team that has a good year and they show that one guy with the trophy and he says I am going to DisneyWorld,? the second-year coach said. ?Those are the only guys who feel good.?

For the Jets to feel good next year, they may want to stay in New York as long as possible. Home-field advantage in the playoffs makes the difference. Since 1990, hosting teams are now 43-9 in the Divisional Round. And if you still don’t think the regular season matters, just look who remains. The four teams with Championship dreams were the top four seeds entering the playoffs.

?I think there is something with playing home, having that week off, having the rest, getting all of your players healed up going into a playoff game, and realizing that we have to win one game and we’re playing for the Super Bowl,? Martin said. ?Just the mentality of it brings a whole other passion to the game.?

With thoughts of home-field dancing in the Jets’ heads, every member of the organization realizes the team must get off to a better start in 2003.

?I wish we could still be playing,? said Jets defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell. ?Getting off to a better start next year is going to be a key thing.?

And you would think the Jets should jump from the blocks quicker in 2003. A solid foundation has been laid and the club should have most of its core nucleus returning. Perhaps most importantly, the franchise has found their quarterback of the future in Pennington.

?He is going to win more playoff games than he loses,? Edwards said of Pennington, a third-year signal caller from Marshall. ?I will say that? You can write that down. Put that one in stone.?

The final inscription on the Jets season was written late Sunday in Oakland. Now a long offseason begins for a franchise determined to continue its steep on-field progression in a few months.