FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Sheldon Richardson remains motivated despite the New York Jets’ 2-11 record.
The defensive tackle is never shy to offer his opinions, usually responding to questions with a refreshingly blunt approach.
So, when Richardson was asked how he keeps playing at such a high level while his team is struggling, the 2013 Defensive Rookie of the Year delivered, as usual.
“This is a team-oriented game, but this is a business in the end,” he said Dec. 8, “and we’ve still got something to play for.”
Such as? “The almighty dollar,” Richardson said. “It’s what drives this league. It is what it is. I don’t want to sound selfish or anything, but in the end, you’ve got to get yours.”
It was a comment that might raise some eyebrows, but Richardson is also driven by pride and a desire to win. He has been one of the team’s few bright spots in his second season.
“I know there’s a comment where he said it’s just about the money or something right now,” coach Rex Ryan said. “That’s not this kid. This kid’s anything but that. I think he thinks it sounds good, but he’s much more than that. He gives it for himself, his teammates, this is the way he plays.”
That was evident on the last play of New York’s 30-24 overtime loss Dec. 7 when Richardson chugged all the way down the field in pursuit of Vikings wide receiver Jarius Wright, whose 87-yard TD catch-and-run won it for Minnesota.
“That’s just me,” Richardson said. “It was overtime. I don’t see the need to give up on the play. He could’ve done anything. He could’ve celebrated early, anything like that. You never know.”
Ryan said he thought Richardson might have had a chance at somehow catching Wright along the sideline. Richardson did, too, saying he had an angle on him at one point, but just couldn’t get to him.
The big defensive tackle sat in the end zone, catching his breath and shaking his head while the Vikings celebrated. It was a lousy ending to a big game for Richardson, who had a career-best three sacks and a safety.
“He walks around here and he’s not afraid to strut his stuff,” quarterback Geno Smith said. “We enjoy that about him because he backs it up on the field.”
Richardson isn’t scheduled to become a free agent until possibly after the 2016 season, so a big payday is a few years off. But he’s hoping for a shot at his first Pro Bowl, something he thinks he deserves but knows the team’s dismal record might work against him.
Left guard Oday Aboushi shouted “Get that man to the Pro Bowl!” as Richardson spoke to reporters. “A few more sacks, and a couple more big plays, and I should,” said Richardson, who leads the Jets with 6 1/2 sacks.
“When I came into this league, I said I wanted to be a dominant force and I meant that,” he said. “That doesn’t change for me no matter the outcome of our record is.”
He also took issue with the opinions of some outside the organization who have been critical of Smith and already “given him the boot” as he struggles in his second season. “They’re quitters,” Richardson said of those who have given up on Smith. “That’s how I feel.”
Smith, making his second straight start after being benched for three games, rebounded Sunday after his first pass was intercepted and returned 27 yards for a touchdown by the Vikings’ Gerald Hodges. Smith finished 18-of-29 for 254 yards and a touchdown.
“When you go all in with a guy, why not give him his chance, you know?” Richardson said. “He’s been in the league two years and guys want him to play like he’s Tom Brady or Peyton Manning or something like that. I just told him to stop turning the ball over, like everybody else probably has mentioned before, but he’s done that.”
DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Sports Writer