Jason Taylor fought back tears as he pondered whether this was the end for him.
The 36-year-old New York Jets linebacker wasn't sure if he might have played for the last time after a 24-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game.
"We finished this thing an hour ago," Taylor said softly. "There are so many emotions going through me right now. We'll cross that bridge in the future."
Taylor signed a two-year contract with the Jets in April, but could retire after 14 sack-filled NFL seasons. Or, it could be out of his hands completely, saying "we'll see" if coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum "even want me back."
Taylor, the NFL's active career sacks leader, was wooed to New York by Ryan to help provide a proven pass rusher to a defense sorely in need of one. He ended up with five in the regular season — a number that he wasn't pleased with.
"I pride myself on being a playmaker and a game-changer," Taylor said. "I may not be the same as I was two years ago, but I felt like I still needed to do more."
The 2006 NFL Defensive Player of the Year was one of the most disliked opponents in the eyes of Jets fans, who booed Taylor for years while he was with the rival Miami Dolphins. But Taylor put that all aside for a chance at a Super Bowl run, something he never experienced in 13 previous seasons.
He said he enjoyed his time playing with the Jets and for Rex Ryan, sounding almost as if he was saying goodbye.
"What a great opportunity," Taylor said. "It was a great run to this point. Obviously, tonight wasn't what we expected. That was the toughest loss I've ever experienced."
That's because after dreaming about getting to the Super Bowl for years, he envisioned the Jets going to Dallas.
"So close," Taylor said, "you could see it. You could smell it. You could feel it. ... It wasn't meant to be."
Taylor spoke about how much fun he had on previous teams and how he cherished the bonds he formed with teammates, but called this season with the Jets the most fun he's had in the NFL.
"You don't want it to end this way," he said. "It wasn't enough personally. I didn't provide enough tonight."
Taylor insisted he wasn't thinking about his future yet, but knows he and the rest of the Jets will not be the same group that plays next season.
"This team as you see it tonight will never be together again," he said. "Whether Jason Taylor's back or anybody else is back, it will not be the same football team again. It just can't be. It's sad in its own right."