Geno Smith showed both his promise and the progress that needs to be made in the Jets’ 18-17 win on Sunday over the Buccaneers.
But in the final 34 seconds of the game, Smith showed why he is the latest answer to this franchise’s woes — and why he might be the one to finally turn things around for the Jets.
The offense inherited the ball on its own 20-yard line, down 17-15 with 34 seconds left in the fourth quarter. An incomplete pass on the first play was followed by a 25-yard connection over the middle to tight end Kellen Winslow and a spike to stop the clock. The pivotal moment came on the next play with 15 seconds left in the game on their own 45-yard line. Smith escaped from a collapsing pocket and smartly ran out of bounds as he was pushed down by Buccaneers linebacker Lavonte David. The personal foul moved the ball to the Tampa Bay 30-yard line and kicker Nick Folk squeaked in a 48-yard field goal for the win.
Smith showed a veteran’s poise and calm in moving the ball down the field to set up Folk’s game winner.
“I wasn’t looking for it — just playing situational football. I had enough time there to scramble, get out of bounds, at least get us past midfield,” Smith said. “At least give us a chance to get a field goal off. It was bad on their part — on that guy’s part — to cause that penalty but it was good for us. Gave us some extra room.”
There were times in the game that Smith showed why he was a popular Top-10 pick this spring in most mock drafts, and there were times he showed why he slipped to the Jets in the second round. Likely starter Mark Sanchez was ruled out of the game midweek with a right shoulder injury suffered two weeks ago. It was Sanchez, ironically, who was the first Jets rookie quarterback to ever starter a season opener in 2009 in a solid win at the Texans.
He termed his own personal performance as one that “had some ups and downs.” Smith finished the afternoon 24-for-38 for 256 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also had a fumble and was sacked five times.
Smith was nowhere near as bad as the third preseason game — his first and only start of preseason — when he had three interceptions and a safety. There were moments where he shone such as when he capped off a six-play, 31-yard scoring drive at the end of the second quarter with a 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kellen Winslow.
He said it was an impromptu play with Winslow and it showed his greatest strength. While he isn’t a running quarterback, he can make things happen when the play breaks down.
“I thought Geno did a really nice job. I’ll tell you where he really helped us — he ran. He made some big plays running,” head coach Rex Ryan said. “They did a nice job coverage-wise back there. They obviously have a lot of tremendous players in the back end and they have a good pass pressure. He had to make some plays and quite honestly those plays helped us win the game, obviously.”
In fact, Smith had 47 rushing yards on six carries as he led the Jets in rushing yards. None of the six carries were by design as he read and responded to the situation and took off as the pocket collapsed.
It wasn’t all perfect. For much of the game, it looked like a lousy debut for the rookie.
His biggest negative was his ball placement as he consistently threw slightly behind his targets and limited yards after catch. His pocket presence was also unsettled, not surprising given the continued learning curve from operating almost exclusively out of the shotgun in college to being under center far more with the Jets.
He had a bad turnover in the second quarter when the Jets were on their own 11-yard line and his lack of pocket presence resulted in a fumble. But in the end, Smith emerged a winner and showed flashes of why he can be special.
Now, he has to go out there and do it all over again on the road at the Patriots in four days.
“It’s good to get a win for the Jets. It’s not about me, it’s about my teammates and the organization so it is good to get a win for the Jets,” Smith said. “But we have to put this one behind and get prepared for a tough game on Thursday night.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.