HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. -- As much as Bill Parcells talked about being physically tired and emotionally drained the day after the New York Jets lost the AFC Championship game to Denver, his words focused elsewhere -- next year.
Make no mistake, Parcells and his players on Monday sounded very much like a team intent on ending the Jets' Super Bowl drought at 31 years.
"I told the players that I won't rest," Parcells told a packed news conference less than 24 hours after a 23-10 loss to the Broncos on Sunday left them a victory shy of football's biggest game.
"I told them that last year my whole idea is to try to improve the team each year. We'll see what we can do to do it."
The immediate agenda was already on the table for Parcells, who confirmed Monday that he will return as coach next year.
The 57-year-old man who is now the only coach to lead three teams to conference title games already had a full schedule on Tuesday. There was a season-ending meeting planned for his coaching staff, administrative conferences to discuss the salary cap and free agency and a player-expansion list due.
Meetings had already been held with some players on Monday, the coaching staff had been re-signed and permission had been given to Chicago and Kansas City to talk to assistant head coach Bill Belichick about head coaching vacancies with the Bears and Chiefs. There also were seven free-agent signings, mostly practice squad players.
All this from a guy who claimed he was very tired, and who tried to reiterate that during his news conference by discussing his thoughts at the 2-minute warning Sunday.
"I always think the same thing," Parcells said. "It's another offseason. It's another draft. It's another training camp. It's another preseason. It's another regular season and it's another semifinal game just to get where you are standing. I can remember this feeling."
Parcells said he felt the same way in 1985 when the Giants lost to NFC semifinal to Chicago 21-0.
The Giants came back the following year and won the Super Bowl.
When reminded of that, Parcells said there is no similarity to the teams, even though he admitted the Jets, who were met at LaGuardia Airport by owner Leon Hess, had a lot more chances to do things on Sunday against Denver than the Giants had against the Bears.
In fact, the Jets led 10-0 and probably were one big play away from putting the Broncos away in the third quarter.
It never came though, and New York was eventually done in by six turnovers.
"I'll tell you this, you don't forget," said backup quarterback and special teams star Ray Lucas. "I'm not going to forget. It's going to be fresh in my mind. It's two years in a row we were almost, almost."
When asked what Parcells told the team on Monday, Lucas smiled confidently.
"He said: `We'll be back,' so you know it," Lucas said. "We're all right. We'll be ready."
It was a sentiment echoed by many players after a 12-4 regular season and a 1-1 record in the postseason.
"I don't want a small victory and say: `Woo, we got to the AFC championship,"' receiver Keyshawn Johnson said. "I don't want to smile and be happy about that. That's not the case. Everyone in this locker room is not happy about it."
Quarterback Vinny Testaverde was one of many Jets who had a tough night sleeping, knowing the game was there for the taking.
"To lose it the way we did, it's hard to accept," he said. "If you get blown out, it's easier to accept. Then they were the better team and you lost. The good thing is we know we can play with the best of them."
The Jets did on Sunday, but for only 30-plus minutes.
"We know that we have accomplished a lot, just thinking about it," cornerback Ray Mickens said. "But knowing we could have been at the big dance, you really want another shot at that opportunity, and we have to wait a whole year for that."
That year has already started for Parcells.
"For us to go through the division next year like we did this would be an accomplishment to do that," he said. "But I don't think it's impossible."
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