PITTSBURGH -- Outside on the frosty grass of Heinz Field, cornerback William Gay egged on the ecstatic crowd as he grooved to "All I Do is Win" screaming on the stadium speakers. The yellow towels were twirling full speed as the Steelers prepared for the award ceremony after winning the AFC Championship Game.
Inside a cement-walled room, Jason Taylor had the somber demeanor of a man who might feel the significance of the loss to the Steelers a little more acutely. The Jets defensive end, in his 14th season in the NFL, held what could be his final NFL news conference, and was asked if he planned to try again next season.
"There is so many emotions running through me right now, we'll cross that bridge in the future," Taylor said. "We'll see if Rex [Ryan] and Mike [Tannenbaum] even want me back.
Taylor is one of a few Jets who could be looking at a last run, or making this offseason permanent. Their futures could depend on whether the Jets are willing to pay the second year of a back-loaded contract like Taylor's, or to keep LaDainian Tomlinson at over $2 million.
"I'm on a contract," Tomlinson said after the loss. "I plan on honoring my contract so we'll see what happens."
Both fullback Tony Richardson and defensive end Shaun Ellis, drafted by the Jets in 2000, will be free agents next season. If he returned, Richardson would prepare for his 18th career training camp, and be able to set the record for games played by running backs. The record is currently held by Lorenzo Neal at 239 games, and Richardson is currently second with 235. After the Jets' loss, the fullback said Sunday night was about the Jets, not about his individual decision.
The fact that all these individual decisions stand to fracture a tight unit makes younger players like Sione Pouha reflective.
"That's the most heartbreaking thing," Pouha said, "to know that this room is not going to be the same anymore."
"I'll stay positive and hope we can keep as many guys as we can," Jets quarterback Mark Sanchez said.
For Tomlinson, who hasn't been to a Super Bowl in his 10 seasons in the NFL, things just seemed right this season.
"It's a missed opportunity," Tomlinson said. "It seemed like things were lining up for us, but it didn't happen."
Between the personal decisions about how much more sand remains in the hourglass, and managerial judgments over which contracts should be kept or discarded, it is clear that the Jets who faced the Steelers will look different in the spring.
"It was a great run to this point," Taylor said. "Obviously, tonight wasn't what we expected. That was the toughest loss I've ever experienced."
Jane McManus is a columnist and reporter for ESPNNewYork.com.