FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) – Shaun Ellis shakes his head when he thinks about all the blue and white confetti that fell around him after last year’s AFC championship game.
He remembers the Indianapolis Colts jumping around and celebrating the win, while he and the rest of the New York Jets could only watch and think about what could’ve been.
“It seems like it was just yesterday,” Ellis said. “We were only 30 minutes away. While we were walking off the field, it was like, ‘If we get this opportunity again, we definitely have to take advantage of it.’
“Now we’re here again, so guys are ready.”
Ellis, 33, has been with the Jets (13-5) longer than anyone on the team, a guy who has dreamed of getting to the Super Bowl throughout his 11 NFL seasons. They’re one win away — again — with only the Pittsburgh Steelers (13-4) standing in their way.
And this time, Ellis wants to see green and white confetti falling from the sky.
“It’s been a long time for our fans and our franchise,” the defensive end said. “So for us to be able to get to that point — and not just get there, but get there and win it — would be huge for us.
Ellis has played in more playoff games than anyone in team history, and ranks third in career sacks. But, he’s scheduled to be a free agent after this season and doesn’t know if he’ll be back. Ellis was told by the team in the offseason it wouldn’t grant him a contract extension, sticking to team policy.
There were even trade rumors that floated around, and it all ticked him off at the time, calling it a “slap in the face.”
The Jets’ 12th overall draft pick out of Tennessee in 2000 has outlasted three head coaches and dozens of former teammates. He recently told The Associated Press his goals include playing 15 years in the NFL and reaching 100 sacks. Ellis insists that’s all the furthest thing from his mind right now.
“I don’t think my future has anything to do with it,” he said. “I just want to go out and win a ring, and this year, I want to do it. Next year, whatever happens happens. Then, we’ll decide and work on that part. For right now, I’m just trying to concentrate on the season and try to get to the Super Bowl.”
After the dominant performance he had in New England last weekend, the man his teammates and coaches call “Big Katt” clearly means it.
Ellis sacked Tom Brady twice early in the Jets’ 28-21 victory and constantly disrupted things at the line of scrimmage, making things miserable for the Patriots quarterback.
“Shaun was on fire out there,” defensive lineman Mike DeVito said. “I think he was still mad about the second time we played them in the regular season. I think he still had some fire and motivation from that. Man, he put it all together. That’s the type of player he is.”
Ellis said he normally has pretty good games against the Patriots, but was lousy — along with the rest of the team — in the Jets’ 45-3 loss earlier in the season.
“It’s the playoffs and you have to win to advance, and we were playing against the Patriots so I wanted to go and make plays,” he said. “That was my whole mentality. The coaches allowed me to be a little bit more free.”
The performance surprised defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who said he’d be “lying” if he said he expected it. Not that Ellis hasn’t been a solid player throughout his career. It’s just that this was different.
“I mean, that was a special performance,” Pettine said. “I just told him today: ‘Whatever you wore to bed, whatever you ate, whatever routine you went through, whatever you drank in the locker room before the game, just make sure you do it again.'”
Ellis often talks about the “old times” with his teammates, recounting big games that he played early in his career and the opportunities that have come and gone.
“If I compared our team to a family, he would be like the older brother,” defensive lineman Sione Pouha said. “You know how there’s that older brother who tells stories like, ‘I remember when me, Mom and Dad went here, but you were too young to remember.’ Shaun will do that. He pulls things out of the archives. That’s what gives you the appreciation for the fact that this guy, he really deserves it and this all has a lot of meaning to him.”
This week, Ellis told some teammates the disappointing tale of the Jets’ loss in their last playoff game in Pittsburgh, a 20-17 overtime defeat in which Doug Brien missed two potential winning field goals in the closing minutes of regulation in 2005.
He wants a better ending this time around.
“To me, I’m taking it real personally,” Ellis said softly. “I want to go out there, do good and get this win for all of our former teams that tried hard to get to this point and never reached it. I want to finish this.”
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