- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If Mark Sanchez was healthy, the New York Jets would have one salacious quarterback controversy. But his injured right shoulder won’t be healed until November (if then), so they have little choice but to ride with Geno Smith.
Better take a Dramamine.
After Sunday’s 38-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans at LP Field, Smith approached many teammates in the locker room, basically telling them, “It won’t happen again.” It will, of course, because he’s a rookie, and rookies have days like this. He handed 28 points to the Titans with four turnovers, and introduced a new term into the franchise’s long history of blooper plays -- the Around-the-Butt Fumble.
At 2-2, it would be a panic move for the Jets to bench Smith in favor of Matt Simms. They’d be going from little experience to no experience. Afterward, Rex Ryan eliminated any doubt, saying Smith will start next week against the Atlanta Falcons.
Unless he pulls a Greg Schiano and flip-flops, Ryan is making the right call by sticking with Smith. It’s a no-brainer, really. This season is all about Smith, finding out if he’s good enough to make him the centerpiece of the franchise. There may come a time to check out Simms, but not now.
So turn down the volume on the “We Want Simms” drumbeat.
The next chapter of this soap opera is waiting to see how the kid from West Virginia University responds to adversity. He has to get better, right?
Smith offered a scathing self-evaluation, describing his performance as “piss-poor.” Hard to argue with that. He threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles because of careless ballhandling, evoking memories of some Sanchez-ian gaffes.
Smith scored points for creativity, trying to switch the ball to his left hand -- behind the back -- while getting bulldozed by defensive tackle Karl Klug at the Jets’ goal line. Note to young quarterbacks: Don’t try any trickeration when there’s a 280-pound human attached to your body.
Naturally, Smith fumbled, and it was recovered for a touchdown to make it 31-6. The game probably was out of reach anyway, but that one moment -- that one brain cramp -- showed a young player overwhelmed by the moment and the day.
“It was kind of one of those tough situations,” Smith said. “My only reaction was to swing my left hand around and grab it before I fumbled it. I couldn’t get it around.”
Sanchez, watching from the sideline in street clothes, could empathize. At least now maybe his Butt Fumble can be put to rest.
How bad was Smith? He was sacked, lost a fumble or threw an interception on nine of his 42 drop-backs, bringing his turnover total to 11 -- eight interceptions and three fumbles. He’s tied with Eli Manning for the league lead in turnovers. In fact, Smith has more turnovers by himself than all but one team -- the New York Giants, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
A livid Ryan was in no mood to use the rookie-growing-pains alibi.
“How many times are we going to make that excuse?” he asked. “One of these days we’re going to have to learn from them, and it better be soon. The team we’re going to play next [the 1-3 Atlanta Falcons] is a pretty good darn football team, so we better learn in a hurry. It has to get better.”
Smith was intercepted by Alterraun Verner on the second play of the game, underthrowing a deep ball to Stephen Hill, and he was cooked right there. He never regained his composure, rattled by the Titans’ relentless blitzing.
Another lowlight occurred when he was scrambling in the open field for a first down, holding the ball with one hand and inviting what occurred next -- a tomahawk chop by linebacker Zach Brown, who slapped the ball loose. His second interception was a bad decision, forcing a ball into blanket coverage on Santonio Holmes, who was beaten to the ball by Verner.
Then came the Around-the-Butt Fumble.
“I’m extremely disappointed with the way I took care of the ball,” Smith said.
Smith wasn’t the only goat. The Jets committed 10 penalties (that’s 30 in two weeks) and allowed four touchdown passes, so there was plenty of blame to go around. Ryan tried to emphasize that point. Sensing the media was picking on Smith in the postgame news conference, the coach insisted, “I think we’re unfairly criticizing one man.”
His teammates -- the ones who spoke, that is -- supported him, saying the right things. Holmes and Calvin Pace, veteran leaders, left without speaking to reporters.
“We believe in the guy,” Kellen Winslow said of Smith.
Do the Jets have a choice?
They are paying the price for mismanaging the quarterback competition in the preseason, resulting in Sanchez’s injury. So now it’s Smith or bust, trying to figure out a way to make him better. Marty Mornhinweg could help by calling more running plays. They actually ran well against the Titans, but the aggressive playcaller kept dialing up passes.
In the meantime, prepare for a bumpy ride.
“[The mistakes] are correctable,” Smith said, “and they will be corrected.”