One year later, QB clarity instead of chaos
August, 23, 2014
By Rich Cimini | ESPN.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A year ago, the New York Jets' quarterback situation came unraveled in the Snoopy Bowl. Geno Smith fumbled his big chance and Mark Sanchez -- the presumptive starter -- wrecked his shoulder because coach Rex Ryan put him in a bad situation. Hello, chaos.
Everything went the opposite way Friday night, which is to say it went the right way for the Jets. Smith, no longer a nervous wreck, was poised and confident in the Jets' 35-24 loss to the Giants. It was his best outing of the summer, by far. This time, Ryan didn't botch anything; he actually solidified his quarterback position, announcing after the game that -- no drum roll necessary -- Smith will be the opening day starter.
There was an inverted symmetry to the night. Instead of losing a starter, as they did last summer in the Snoopy Bowl, the Jets gained one, if only symbolically. Don't underestimate the importance of quarterback stability. It's the most important position in the sport -- always will be -- and the Jets are way ahead of last year because they can prepare for the season knowing they have the right guy in place.
Smith didn't win the job with his 9-for-14, 137-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Giants. He didn't win it last week, either. In truth, he won it last Dec. 29, in Miami, where he ended his rookie season on the upswing. He parlayed a solid December into the pole position for the 2014 quarterback race. The team brass didn't say it publicly, but it decided to make him the preferred candidate, later signing Michael Vick as a mentor/insurance policy.
The Jets fumbled the message along the way, making it harder to decipher than it needed to be, but their plan never changed: It was Smith's job to lose. Vick's mediocre spring only reinforced their belief that Smith would be The Guy.
Vick never had a chance; it was a competition that wasn't a competition. General manager John Idzik's quote from early in training camp -- "it's not tilted" in Smith's favor -- was laughable at the time. Now, it's a knee-slapper.
Ryan could've made the announcement last week -- everybody knew anyway -- but he waited until after the game for two reasons: He wanted the quasi-competition to run its course, lest he contradict the Idzik mantra. He also wanted to make sure the plan wasn't muddied by an injury, as was the case last summer.
"He played a little better than the last time he was here against the same opponent," said Ryan, remembering Smith's three-interception nightmare that included a brain-cramp safety when he stepped out of the end zone.
The coach was smiling. He likes Smith's "command and presence, the way he can use his legs to get positive yards, and he can throw the football. He can make all the throws. I was really, really, really pleased with how Geno played, especially tonight."
In five preseason quarters, Smith has committed only one turnover -- an interception on a mistimed route last week with David Nelson. That's the biggest difference between last season and now: He doesn't do dumb things. He has completed 70 percent of his passes. If he can be a competent game manager, letting Chris Johnson & Co. do the heavy lifting, the Jets can be a playoff team.
"I knew the entire time that Geno was going to be the starter, but Geno went out and proved that he's capable of running this team and putting the team in a position to win," said Vick, who has handled the situation graciously from the beginning.
Smith hasn't arrived yet. An encouraging finish last season against poor defensive teams, plus some nice preseason moments, doesn't mean the Jets have found their franchise quarterback. Teams do very little game planning in the preseason, so the coverages are easier to read. In many respects, it's Football 101, so take everything with a grain of salt. But give Smith credit for handling it well, improving a little each week. The real tests start in two weeks.
"He's done everything we've asked of him," Ryan said of Smith.
So this year the Jets didn't come away with the Snoopy Trophy. No big deal. At least they're not being dogged for having messed up their quarterback situation.