FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Michael Vick could feel their eyes on him.
He stood before his teammates Sunday night and poured his heart out. He needed to be sure they weren't giving up. He needed them to know that he wishes he could have back the prime years of his NFL career. He implored them not to make the mistake of squandering any more opportunities.
Vick may no longer be the Jets' starting quarterback, but he's still a leader in their locker room. So when he approached Rex Ryan about wanting to talk to the group before Monday night's game against Miami, Ryan insisted that Vick address the team the night before instead.
"Man, I had everybody's undivided attention like I never had before,'' Vick told Newsday after Wednesday's practice.
His words struck such a nerve that "five or six'' players approached him the following day to let him know his message resonated with them.
"Sometimes you just want to find out how much guys love the game,'' said Vick, 34, who served 23 months in a federal prison for his involvement in a dogfighting ring. "Because if they love the game, they'll give it their all. If they don't, then somebody's just wasting time.''
Even though the Jets lost to the Dolphins, 16-13, Vick believes his message got through, and he expects the Jets (2-10) to keep fighting the rest of the way.
The next four weeks will be a challenge for Vick, too, as he continues to be a sideline cheerleader for incumbent Geno Smith while contemplating his own NFL future. But while speculation still swirls over how the Jets came to the decision last week to go back to Smith, Vick has made peace with it.
"Because I know they want to evaluate this team,'' Vick said. "They want to evaluate the young guys, give Geno another shot to prove that he is the quarterback of the future. Because he's going to play a lot longer than me.''
But understand one thing, Vick said: "I've never been benched before in my life.''
"I hate that word,'' he said later, explaining why he grew frustrated with a reporter who had asked him about his demotion. "Because I'm a realist, and realistically, I know why I got benched. I know what this team is trying to do right now. I may not be in their future plans, but Geno may be. And that's important to this organization and it's important to me to allow them to do that.''
When Smith, 24, was asked Wednesday if he believes he gives the Jets the best chance to win, he said: "I think when I'm out there, I do . . . As long as I'm out there playing, I'm going to.''
But the Jets' coaching staff has gone out of its way not to give the same endorsement.
Vick admitted he "could have played better, should have played better,'' especially against the Bills in a 38-3 loss in Week 12. But he's accepted the backup role once more because the coaches explained their reasons.
"That's what makes it easier for me,'' he said. "But when you've got a [reporter] come up and say 'before you got benched,' it comes off in a totally different way. It's like, now you're making me feel like I did something wrong.''
But what about losing the starting job to Nick Foles last season in Philadelphia?
"But I was injured,'' he said, "so I look at it different.''
But rather than focus on the past, Vick is focused on the future -- and keeping his team together for as long as he's a Jet.
"We work so hard throughout the week, man, and we go into the game knowing we're going to win, and then it doesn't happen. So it's tough,'' he said. "So we've got to find a way to keep the guys into it, keep them involved, keep them believing.''
Notes & quotes: Ryan said he doesn't expect DE Muhammad Wilkerson (turf toe) to play Sunday against the Vikings, but sitting him for the rest of the season isn't an option. TE Jace Amaro (concussion) and WR Greg Salas (hamstring) also aren't expected to play . . . K Nick Folk (hip flexor), WR Jeremy Kerley, TE Jeff Cumberland and DB Josh Thomas (illnesses) did not practice . . . The Jets signed DT Kona Schwenke to the practice squad.