- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- It was right there in front of them, almost close enough to touch -- the Lamar Hunt Trophy, presented to the AFC champion.
Head coach Rex Ryan ended his team meeting Wednesday morning by flashing a picture of the trophy on the big screen in the auditorium of the New York Jets' practice facility.
"Guys, this is hardware time," the coach declared, according to several players.
That, players said, created a buzz in the room. After two days of post-New England euphoria, the moment hit them: Beat the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field, and the Jets will add more hardware to the trophy case.
And this is a franchise that has been out of the hardware business for 42 years.
"Rex said, 'This is when you start winning all the cool stuff,'" guard Matt Slauson said, recalling the meeting. "He said after we win this game, we'll come back and get fitted for our [conference championship] rings. That really juiced up everybody. You could see it on everybody's faces because it's a reality now."
The ultimate goal, of course, is to win the Super Bowl and bring back the Vince Lombardi Trophy, but when you've gone four decades without a championship, it's one title at a time.
"All I want to do is find a way to win -- one point, whatever," Ryan said. "We want to be part of that. I want that green and white confetti coming down. We want to hold the trophy, the Lamar Hunt Trophy. We want that to be ours. We want the hat, we want the T-shirts. We want to experience that."
Which explains why he wanted his players to set their eyes on the prize.
"It's something tangible, something you can grab," nose tackle Sione Pouha said.
Safety Eric Smith said, "Our goal was that close to us. We could almost reach out and touch it."
The mood around the team is different than last January, when the Jets advanced to the AFC title game after two road wins. That was unexpected, coming with a rookie coach and a rookie quarterback. This season was a Super Bowl-or-bust mission.
Even Ryan acknowledged the contrast, saying, "This week, it's weird, I'm not going to lie."
He said it's because the expectations, externally, are higher than a year ago.
Even though they're not yapping this week as much as they usually do, the Jets are confident. The biggest reason is because they went into Pittsburgh last month and upset the Steelers, 22-17.
The Jets also feel they're peaking at the right time, having won four of their past five -- the lone defeat a four-point loss at Chicago. Even that wasn't a disaster, as they locked up a playoff berth only minutes after the game.
As odd as it sounds, the Jets were bombarded with questions about the possibility of a letdown after the emotional win over hated New England. Patriots wide receiver Deion Branch, who accused some Jets of being "classless" winners, said in a radio interview that last week was the Jets' Super Bowl.
Trevor Price laughed that off.
"We ... need ... to ... win," said the veteran defensive tackle, pausing between each word for emphasis. "Guys on this team came here for this reason. You don't need any more motivation than 'I've never been to a Super Bowl.' How much more motivation do you need?"
It's hardware time.
"We know we can beat Pittsburgh," Slauson said. "If we just take care of business, we'll have something to show for it. We'll have a new trophy in the case."
12hEric D. Williams