The Geno Smith era has officially begun — at least for one week — as the Jets rookie quarterback got his first start in a crazy, 18-17 season-opening win over the Buccaneers.
But the story of the game really wasn’t Smith as much as it was a relatively strong showing from the Jets defense, in particular their front seven who confused and limited Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman throughout the game. The defense was victimized on two occasions by good field position for the visitors, as Tampa Bay’s two first-half touchdown drives were both on shortened fields and covered a combined 49 yards.
Smith had a mixture of highlights and lowlights in his debut against one of the league’s best defenses. His best play of the game had little to do with himself, as he drew a 15-yard personal foul heading out of bounds to put the Jets into position for the game-winning field goal with seven seconds left.
The Bucs had taken a lead with 38 seconds left.
Down 14-5 late in the first half, safety Dawan Landry intercepted a Freeman pass and returned it 38 yards. The turnover set up Smith and the Jets offense for a tidy six-play, 31-yard drive that was finished off by 7-yard touchdown pass to tight end Kellen Winslow.
But Smith also had two turnovers and held the ball far too long on multiple occasions.
1. Putting the ‘no’ in Geno
The seismic shift from Mark Sanchez’s four years as starting quarterback essentially ended on Sunday with the first NFL start for the second-round pick Smith. Smith was essentially handed the starting job when Sanchez hurt his right shoulder two weeks ago and he hasn’t been able to throw since. Smith underwhelmed in training camp and had three interceptions in his only start of preseason against the Giants, the same game Sanchez got hurt. Smith had a fumble, an interception and a 19-yard sack in the first half alone as his growing pains clearly showed an inexperienced quarterback. But there were bright moments, such as a 26-yard pass to Jeremy Kerley on his first professional snap and his touchdown throw to Winslow at the end of the second quarter. He also sparkled in a fourth-quarter drive where he spread the ball around and sold the play action efficiently on a 14-play, 65-yard drive that led to a Nick Folk field goal and a 15-14 lead.
2. The revamped secondary
With a secondary that features three new safeties at the top of the depth chart and a rookie cornerback making his first start, Sunday had some predictable ups and downs for the Jets. In his first start, Antonio Allen got the start at safety and did well alongside veteran Dawan Landry, who had a second-quarter interception. But first-round pick Dee Milliner, taken by the Jets No. 9 overall this April, struggled mightily. He got burned on the inside repeatedly, including Freeman’s 17-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams, and was consistently behind the play all day long. Antonio Cromartie also had a rough time against Vincent Jackson too as several times he got burned on the inside and took poor angles on his coverage.
3. Nonexistent ground game
A new running back stable that was supposed to provide balance but did little against the Buccaneers, a team with the league’s best run defense a season ago. Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell combined for 45 rushing yards on 21 carries. The offense needs Mike Goodson, suspended the first four games of the season for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, to be ready to go come Week 5 because this group may not cut it right now.
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.