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Ryan: Geno Smith still Jets' starter

Struggling rookie Geno Smith received a pat on the back and a kick in the rear Monday from New York Jets coach Rex Ryan.

Ryan expressed confidence in the quarterback, reiterating that he's sticking with him as the starter, but made it clear there's a limit to his patience. Ryan was critical of Smith's carelessness with the ball, saying he needs to make an immediate improvement.

In his most telling comment, Ryan used a disclaimer while giving Smith a vote of confidence -- usually not a good sign. Asked if he's mulling a change, giving Smith a chance to watch and learn from the sideline, Ryan replied, "It's not a thought at this point right now."

Smith committed a season-high four turnovers in Sunday's 38-13 loss to the Tennessee Titans, bringing his total to 11 -- tied with the New York Giants' Eli Manning for most in the league. Smith threw two interceptions against the Titans, but it was his two fumbles that annoyed Ryan more than anything else. In both cases, he was reckless with the ball, failing to secure it with two hands.

"You can't buy experience, but with that being said, we still have to do a much better job -- Geno, in particular -- of protecting the football at all costs," Ryan said. "You can't be nonchalant about it, you have to protect the ball."

Ryan said "you can talk about it until you're blue in the face," but there will come a point when he'll want to see results. Ryan is thought to be coaching for his job, so he may have a quicker hook than he did in 2009, when Mark Sanchez experienced a severe case of rookie growing pains.

The Jets' options are limited. With Sanchez (shoulder) on injured reserve until November, the backups are Matt Simms and journeyman Brady Quinn. Simms, a preseason standout, has no NFL experience. Quinn arrived only a month ago, so he still doesn't have a full grasp of Marty Mornhinweg's playbook.

The NFL Network reported Monday that Sanchez has decided to have surgery to repair his torn labrum after attempts to rehab the injury. Sanchez has not abandoned his rehab goals for shoulder and has no definite plans for surgery yet, a source close to Sanchez told ESPN senior NFL analyst Chris Mortensen.

To make matters more difficult, the Jets could be without their starting wide receivers when they face the Atlanta Falcons (1-3) on the road Oct. 7. Stephen Hill suffered a concussion Sunday, Ryan announced, and is unlikely to play. Santonio Holmes pulled a hamstring late in the game Sunday and didn't return, so he's a question mark as well.

No matter who surrounds Smith, Ryan wants a dramatic reduction in turnovers.

"It has to get better," he said. "It can't be just we talk about it. We have to see it.

"I will say this: The young man, when you look at his college background, he threw six picks all season. I believe it's going to get better. I don't think there's any doubt it will get better."

Ryan's numbers are correct. Smith threw six interceptions in 518 attempts last season at West Virginia. In fact, he never had more than seven in any of his three seasons as a starter.

In four games as a pro, Smith has thrown eight interceptions in 136 attempts. At his current pace, he'd challenge the league mark for most interceptions in a season. Vinny Testaverde threw 35 in 1988, the most in the post-merger era.

"As far as those turnovers go, they have to stop now," said Smith, who apologized to his defensive teammates after the game for putting them in difficult situations. "A lot falls on my shoulders as far as taking care of the ball, but that's something I have to do. I know that I've been coached hard. No one wants to make those mistakes. It's something that has to stop now in order for us to progress and to get better as an offense and as a team."

The low point came in the fourth quarter, on a screen pass from the Jets' 16-yard line. Smith was under pressure -- part of the play's design -- but he held the ball too long as he retreated toward the goal line. With defensive tackle Karl Klug trying to wrap him up, Smith attempted to switch the ball to his left hand with an around-the-back maneuver.

Didn't work. He fumbled and it was recovered for a touchdown, making it 31-8.

On the sideline, Ryan was livid.

"He was trying to avoid the rush, but at what cost?" he said. "To me, we have to put two hands on the ball. If we've got to roll our shoulders over and take the sack, that's what we have to do."

Two of the five sacks allowed came on screen passes, one nearly resulting in a safety. The indecision on those routine plays showed Smith's lack of awareness.

"We just have to get rid of the football in those situations, or dirt the ball instead of taking a sack," Ryan said.

Right now, the Jets (2-2) are a mistake-prone team. They have a minus-10 turnover margin and they lead the league with 44 penalties.

Ryan believes he can fix those two issues, not ruling out a more run-oriented attack to take pressure off Smith.

"We've got to quit turning the ball over," he said. "That's killing us right now."