- Johnette Howard, ESPN Staff Writer
- 0 Shares
By Tuesday morning, everyone still wanted to know how.
As in, how is it that Smith could rebound from a four-turnover nightmare against the Tennessee Titans that left him going from locker to locker to apologize to his teammates a week ago, then pull off something as magical as a 30-28 rally during his "Monday Night Football" debut in just his fifth career NFL start? He did all that after the Jets had just finished blowing a 13-point, second-half lead and got the ball back 80 yards from the end zone with 1:54 to play.
Smith thinks he knows the answer.
"I had to adjust my mentality," he said after the Jets' coaching staff doubled down on trusting him despite his debacle against the Titans.
"They just tell me to go to out there and let it rip -- play with no conscience," Smith continued after he went 4-for-4 passing on the final drive and Nick Folk's game-winning, 43-yard field goal tumbled just inside the left upright as time expired.
Let it rip? The Jets offense? Since when?
For the first time in Rex Ryan's tenure as the Jets coach, his team might finally have an offensive coordinator, Marty Mornhinweg, who can match the aggressive mentality that has made Ryan's defenses perennially good.
Brian Schottenheimer, Ryan's first offense coordinator, didn't merely run the ground-and-pound attack that Ryan wanted; Schottenheimer never met a dink pass he didn't like, and he had a knack for calling gadget plays at spectacularly bad times. Last season's one-and-done offensive coordinator Tony Sparano? He rolled out an even drearier version of dinosaur ball while the rest of the NFL raced to develop high-octane passing attacks.
Ryan finally realized he had to change.
Mornhinweg's version of the West Coast offense seems perfectly suited to taking advantage of the athleticism and accuracy that Smith showed at West Virginia before he left and fell to the Jets in the second round of the draft. And Smith seems temperamentally suited for the identity Mornhinweg is trying to create. He's disciplined enough to take the short stuff and daring enough to take the deep shots Mornhinweg loves to dial up.
"It's a mentality -- we just want to be aggressive," Mornhinweg said recently. "And that mentality is important to me."
This shouldn't come as a surprise. Mornhinweg, 51, has a longstanding reputation for aggressiveness and a good history of molding winning quarterbacks, even ones as inexperienced as Smith. He came to the Jets after deciding not to follow his old boss, Andy Reid, to Kansas City after they were let go last season by the Eagles. But they did a lot of good work together before leaving.
Michael Vick had his career-best passing seasons in 2010 and 2011, and the Eagles had a top-10 offense five times in six seasons (2006-11) during the time Mornhinweg was Philly's offensive coordinator. Kevin Kolb and Nick Foles began their development under him as well. Though Reid often got a lot of the credit for everything the Eagles offense did, that at least partly changed when Reid turned over the play calling to Morhninweg in '06 and the Eagles reeled off five straight wins in their last five regular-season games to tear into the playoffs.
Before the Eagles, Mornhinweg was an offensive assistant for Mike Holmgren in Green Bay and Steve Mariucci in San Francisco.
To this day, Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young raves about Mornhinweg's brilliantly crafted game plans and inspired play calling. And Smith was raving about the same things Monday night.
"Great call by Marty," he said of Mornhniweg's decision to call Smith's 1-yard touchdown pass to Kellen Winslow.
How about that audible Smith himself fearlessly called to check the Jets from a pass into a run on third-and-3 from the Falcons' 31-yard line with 25 seconds to play?
"In that situation, we got the look we wanted, got the check called," Smith said.
Bilal Powell picked up 6 yards to spare Folk from having to try a 49-yard field goal.
The fact that Smith felt he had the license -- not just personal confidence -- to change the play shows how Mornhinweg's attitude is indeed rubbing off on the Jets.
"Attack, attack, attack. He's preached that since the day I met him," Jets guard Willie Colon said last week.
Mornhinweg isn't just situationally aggressive. He seems to believe the harder things get in the course of a game, the more -- not less -- you need to force the issue sometimes. And Ryan coaches the Jets defense the same way.
Ryan said he challenged the entire Jets team -- not just Smith -- to "play fearlessly" against the Falcons.
Smith wasn't kidding Monday night when he said he considers this a "dream" situation for a quarterback like him to be in.
Neither he nor Mornhinweg are using his inexperience as a crutch. Smith isn't being asked to just be a game manager or Robo-QB -- just limit his turnovers. And Smith's teammates already seem to have faith in him. Those pre-draft reports that questioned whether he had the leadership skills for the NFL seem hysterically funny so far.
Smith has now led the Jets (3-2) on fourth-quarter, game-winning drives in all three of their wins. With the 0-4 Pittsburgh Steelers visiting next, the Jets could build some momentum heading into their rematch against the New England Patriots the following week.
It has to help Smith to know that, good or bad, whether the Jets are up by 20 or trail with the game on the line and a minute to go, Mornhinweg's mantra doesn't change.
The Jets offense and defense finally fit. At last, they have the same mindset, whether they're trying to bring the house on defense or take it to the house on offense.
Attack, attack, attack.
12hEric D. Williams