"I promise you no one's hurting more than the people in the locker room -- especially me," the second-year head coach said Sunday, as he explained the message to the fans after the Jets' fifth straight loss. "But at the same time, I know it's hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel -- but there's still a lot of really cool things to look at from this season. But right now, it stings -- big time, right now."
Following a 31-10 win over the Chicago Bears (3-13) Nov. 27, the Jets entered December at 7-4 and with an opportunity to punch their first postseason ticket since January 2011 -- the 2010 season. They suffered a trio of one-score losses before Week 16's 19-3 sloppy defeat against the Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8) Dec. 22 on Thursday Night Football and did more of the same Sunday in Seattle with the Seahawks (8-8).
"It stings," said quarterback Mike White, who returned for the first time since Dec. 11 from an injury to his ribs but struggled, going 23-of-46 passing with 240 yards and two interceptions. "It's tough. It's gut-wrenching. It's all of the above. Whatever adjective you want to use to describe it. ... By no means is there moral victories, but in the grand scheme of things, we are playing meaningful football late in the season.
"But also, I think we're at the point where we don't care about moral victories. We don't care that we're playing meaningful games, 'cause we know we're capable of it. Now we need to win meaningful games. I know every single person in that locker room is going to use this game as fuel, myself included. But right now, it stings."
While the Seahawks slide into the NFC's seventh and final playoff spot entering Week 18 with the win over the Jets, New York is eliminated ahead of next Sunday's finale at the Miami Dolphins (8-8). Saleh is 11-21 since taking over the Jets for the 2021 season, which was a 4-13 debut.
"We have a tremendous young core -- I do believe that," Saleh said. "I look at the first half of our season and we're fully healthy going into the bye week -- we're 6-3 and everything was looking up, and one thing leads to another and ... you lose a couple really tight games and these last two games it just hasn't been anywhere near playoff-caliber football for us.
"But you lose to a Minnesota (Vikings) team in the last second (27-22 on Dec. 4), you lose to a Buffalo (Bills) team in the last second (20-12 on Dec. 11), you lose to the (Detroit) Lions in the last second (20-17 on Dec. 18), so I know we're close. And I know it stings right now -- it stings -- but I know we've made a lot of headway with the last two years and we'll continue to do so."