A devastating performance a week ago could have shot rookie quarterback Geno Smith’s confidence. Instead, he stepped forward to show glimpses of his full potential in a 27-20 win over the Bills on Saturday afternoon.
In what was clearly the best start of his young NFL career, Smith was 16-of-29 for 331 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Smith also had an 8-yard touchdown run on a designed quarterback draw.
But what he showed most importantly was character and strength in the face of adversity.
The performance underscored his potential but also justified the Jets’ faith in their second-round selection. Across the field was Bills quarterback E.J. Manuel, who was taken with the No. 16 pick in this past April’s NFL Draft, 23 spots before Smith. Smith was the consensus top quarterback in most mock drafts, leading many to question whether the Bills had reached to draft Manuel.
Of course, Smith said the victory over Manuel didn’t matter on a personal level. Manuel finished 19-of-42 for 243 yards and one touchdown.
“Other than the fact that we got a win, it doesn’t mean anything,” Smith said. “E.J.’s a good guy. I think he played a great game and we’ll be battling for a number of years. It’s just good to come out here and get a victory. That’s all that matters.”
Smith’s teammates, however, sang his praises.
“Geno’s poise – he can be as great as he wants to be,” wide receiver Santonio Holmes said. “His opportunity is definitely something that we’re going to look forward to for a long time.”
Holmes and Smith linked up in the fourth quarter on a 69-yard touchdown route in tight coverage down the sideline. Smith, who has struggled with ball placement down the field, put the ball right where it was supposed to be and allowed Holmes to run into the end zone for a 27-20 lead.
Most impressive was the Jets’ ability to stretch the ball down the field, something a bit uncharacteristic of the West Coast offense. Smith had passes greater than 40 yards four times against the Bills.
“We worked the heck out of it all week,” head coach Rex Ryan said. “We knew if we got that protection to hold up, we’d get some opportunities down the field. That certainly happened today.”
There were struggles. Both interceptions could have been avoided by more patience in the pocket and a better reading of the defense. But unlike last week, when he threw three interceptions and was dejected after each one, Smith picked himself up.
“It’s fantastic to see. He puts in his work during the week,” center Nick Mangold said. “His receivers were really working today. He made the throws that he needed to.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.