A few days ago, I sat across from New York Jets owner Woody Johnson and asked if he considered the season "disappointing." His own coach, Rex Ryan, had used that word only a couple of days earlier.
Johnson didn't give a direct answer. I asked again, and he dodged again, saying the 8-6 record wasn't "through lack of effort" and that he's "optimistic going forward." Finally, this: Would you be disappointed if you don't make the playoffs?
"I'm going to assume we make the playoffs, so I'm not going to be disappointed," Johnson said.
Barring a New Year's Day miracle, the Jets aren't going to the playoffs -- and don't think for a second that he's not crushed. That they landed in this position because of a loss to the New York Giants ... well, it probably curdled Johnson's egg nog.
If the Jets' season ends next Sunday in Miami, the question becomes: What next?
When they failed to make the playoffs in 2008, Johnson fired Eric Mangini.
When they missed in 2007, he traded for Brett Favre.
When they bombed in 2005, he fired/traded Herm Edwards to the Kansas City Chiefs.
When they didn't make it in 2003, Johnson waited a year before signing off on Edwards' decision to make offensive coordinator Paul Hackett the scapegoat.
In each situation, the expectations never were as great as they were this season, which leads you to believe that someone's head is going to roll.
Ryan isn't going anywhere, so naturally the focus shifts to offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer. And now, for the first time, there is media speculation about Mark Sanchez's immediate future with the team.
Sanchez's up-and-down season hit a big "down" against the Giants, with arguably the worst big-game performance of his career. He committed three turnovers in the fourth quarter, made poor decisions (including a safety) and failed to galvanize the offense. He wasn't helped by questionable play calling and leaky pass protection, but we all know how it goes in this town with the quarterback and the blame game.
Ryan has said on multiple occasions that Sanchez will be his quarterback for as long as he's the head coach. Indeed, it's hard to imagine the Jets parting ways with Their Guy after three years, especially since he has proven he can be a good, winning quarterback.
But, make no mistake, Ryan can't be thrilled with the lack of progress. Remember in August, how he went on and on about the strides he expected from Sanchez in Year 3? For various reasons, that hasn't happened.
It was telling after the game to hear Ryan say, "We're really not built to play that game" -- meaning a pass-heavy attack. When a coach says his team can't win by throwing, it's an indictment on the thrower. It also may have been a dig at Schottenheimer.
Off in the distance looms the specter of Peyton Manning, whose future with the Indianapolis Colts is uncertain. Ryan has called Manning the best in the league, bar none. Would they? Could they? Will they?
There are rumblings about Manning's possible interest in the Jets. It's too soon to connect all those dots, but at the very least, the Jets' decision makers will have to have a conversation about their quarterback position.
"The Jets selected that quarterback to be a franchise guy and they surrounded him with offensive skill players," one personnel executive said of Sanchez on Sunday, speaking on the condition of anonymity. "I would bet there's some pause for concern internally."
Sanchez has two years remaining on his contract, and he's due a $2.75 million roster bonus at the start of the next league year in March. He's won a lot of football games in three years and deserves a mulligan for a non-playoff season, but we all know how the Jets operate: They explore everything.
What they should do is figure out a plan to make Sanchez better, whether it's replacing some pieces around him, tweaking the system or hiring new voices.
The owner's track record suggests he will do something to shake it up.