- Rich Cimini, ESPN Staff Writer
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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- The New York Jets have exceeded expectations with a 4-4 record, but to make a serious run at a playoff berth, they need to improve at the quarterback position.
So says the quarterback.
"I think it has to be dramatic," rookie Geno Smith said Wednesday. "I've shown the ability to do certain things, but the key is consistency, being consistent every single down. I have to get better to help this team win."
Smith has been wildly inconsistent, throwing interceptions (13) at an alarming rate but also demonstrating the ability to make plays in crunch time. He has led a game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime in each of the Jets' victories, the first rookie since 1970 to do it four times in his first seven games.
Last week's two-interception performance notwithstanding, Smith showed improvement over the second quarter of the season, but not enough to make him satisfied.
"It's always good to see progress and see improvement, but in no way, shape or form am I happy with the way I've played over the first eight games," Smith said. "I could've done a lot better. I do understand I have a lot to learn, but I know what I'm capable of."
Smith begins the second half of the season Sunday against the New Orleans Saints (6-1). Saints coach Sean Payton, who said he studied Smith "very closely" before the draft, said the thing that strikes him about the rookie is his ability to rally his team late in games.
"It's pretty impressive for a rookie quarterback to have done that a number of times in just a short eight weeks," Payton told the New York media. "The confidence his players have in him, you can see it on tape."
Smith's problem is maintaining it from week to week. Two weeks ago, he outplayed the New England Patriots' Tom Brady in helping the Jets to an overtime victory. But this past Sunday in Cincinnati, he threw two interceptions that were returned for touchdowns. That makes three pick-sixes in his past two games, the first quarterback to do that since Peyton Manning in 2010.
"It can't happen," Smith said. "You never want to have interceptions or turnovers that result in points for the other team."
Smith is a perfectionist and he always takes the blame for turnovers, whether they're his fault or not. He has earned the respect of his teammates with behind-the-scenes leadership. On his own, he started organizing players-only meetings for the quarterbacks and receivers a few weeks ago. They study pass routes and review the game plan for the upcoming game.
"I see him take a lot of notes in his pads," said wide receiver Santonio Holmes, who might miss his fifth straight game Sunday with a hamstring injury. "He talks to me after meetings, and we talk more about his growth as a great teammate, and I think that's definitely improving."
Smith is an enigma because, despite his growing reputation as a clutch player, he has thrown five of his 13 interceptions in the fourth quarter. And that bothers him.
"I think where I get in the most trouble is later on in games, just from my own observations," he said. "I have to be more consistent."
Smith will face an opportunistic New Orleans defense, which has improved dramatically under coordinator Rob Ryan, the twin brother of Jets coach Rex Ryan. Smith has talked to his coach about Rob's defensive tendencies, and Rex's response was, "You can expect anything."
"Obviously, having a Ryan as the defensive coordinator always makes the defense good," Smith said, tossing a compliment to his boss as well. "It'll be a challenge for me."
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