Geno Smith delivered his best performance in two months -- easily. What impressed me the most was the poise he demonstrated on third down. As expected, the Browns came after him, rushing five or more on eight of his 12 dropbacks. They sent a couple of corner blitzes, probably going to school on the Jets-Panthers tape from the previous week. But Smith, afforded terrific pass protection, was unflappable.
He completed 9 of 12 passes on third down, including three conversions on third-and-10 or greater. To me, Smith's best play came on a third-and-12 to Jeremy Kerley. It came against a Cover 2 look, with Kerley beating linebacker D'Qwell Jackson into the soft middle for 22 yards. It was significant because, in a similar situation four weeks ago against the Miami Dolphins, Smith was intercepted by linebacker Dannell Ellerbe on a throw to the slot receiver.
Progress? Yes, but keep in mind the Browns were ranked 27th in third-down defense.
Other takeaways from the game:
1. The Marty Bunch: Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg did a nice job of using bunch formations to create separation for the receivers. A good example was Smith's 6-yard touchdown pass to David Nelson. They had three tight ends on the field -- unusual for third-and-6 -- with Nelson lined up in a bunch to the right. He got a free release and ran a post route through bracket coverage. Smith anticipated Nelson's break, winding up before Nelson turned for the ball -- just like you draw it up. Later, Nelson had a 15-yard reception out of another bunch formation.
2. Welcome back, wideouts: This may have been the best game for the wide-receiving corps, which produced 11 catches, 123 yards and two touchdowns. It had better numbers against the Cincinnati Bengals (15 for 130), but that was a blowout loss. The Browns used a lot of "off" coverage, playing into the Jets' hands. Everybody knows you have to play aggressive press coverage against the Jets' wideouts.
3. Tone's time almost up: It was a disappointing day for Santonio Holmes, who had as many drops (two) as receptions. On the positive side, he did a nice job of shielding cornerback Buster Skrine in the end zone on Smith's 17-yard touchdown scramble. Curiously, Holmes didn't partake in the celebration. Smith was mobbed by seven teammates, but Holmes, nearby, didn't join in, looking like he was sulking.
4. Reed responds in backup role: Safety Ed Reed, replaced by Antonio Allen in the base defense, played his best game as a Jet. In fact, the much-maligned safety group allowed only one completion in five targets, recorded an interception (Reed) and broke up two passes -- a solid performance. Then again, what do we writers know about football, right, Ed?
5. Flawless protection: Kudos to the offensive line -- no sacks, no quarterback hits. I've been critical of rookie left guard Brian Winters, but this was one of his better games. He had a key block on Bilal Powell's 39-yard run.
6. Defensive hiccup: The Jets were gashed on Edwin Baker's 5-yard touchdown run. It happened with defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson (shoulder) temporarily out of the game. His replacement, Leger Douzable, was double-teamed. Outside linebacker Quinton Coples fell victim to a trap block, creating a crease for Baker. Afterward, Rex Ryan took responsibility, saying he should've used the goal-line defense instead of the base.
7. Not so special: Special-teams mistakes have cost the Jets 10 points in the last two games. There was the blocked punt in Carolina, and the failed fake punt against the Browns. Josh Bush, a safety, took the direct snap and uncorked a Tebow-esque pass into the ground, missing a wide-open Isaiah Trufant. They will say it should've worked because he was open, but I didn't see the point in resorting to trickeration against a hapless team like the Browns. The Jets also allowed a 50-yard kickoff return at a critical point in the game, but it was a treat to see Saalim Hakim turn on the jets and track down Fozzy Whittaker. Dude can fly.