Following the Jets’ 37-14 loss in Buffalo this past Sunday, Matt Simms returned to his Bergen County home to sit and contemplate the game, just like the rest of his teammates.
Except Simms has a legendary father sitting in the living room, talking him through the game.
Simms entered the game in the first quarter for a few snaps when starter Geno Smith went down after a hard hit and again in the fourth quarter when Smith was yanked after a dismal effort. His four completions for 60 yards were career highs and he turned heads with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Jeff Cumberland.
Matt and his father sat around the kitchen table and talked about the game, just like they did when Matt first started to play football at the youth level through his time at Don Bosco Prep in Ramsey, N.J., where he was the No. 14 quarterback in the nation according to Rivals.com.
“It was a cool moment for us, because he knows the things I had to go through to get to this point,” Matt told Metro. “He was trying to find something to eat. It was typical father-son talk. It just happens that my father was a really good player. He was a good player so when I talk to him and explain things to him, his viewpoint is a little more on top of it than most fathers.”
But it hasn’t been an easy road to the NFL for Matt, despite a pedigree that includes a Super Bowl winner for a father and a brother Chris who had a solid NFL career of his own.
After his time with the powerhouse Don Bosco program, Matt went to Louisville where he was supposed to be the heir apparent to Brian Brohm. Instead, he rarely appeared for the Cardinals and was suspended at one point for four games for violation of team rules. He went the unconventional route of going to a junior college in California.
“It was very different, no frills really. They didn’t have a strength coach for example, there was no training table to feed you meals every day after practice. Travel wasn’t a charter flight, you know?” Matt said. “There wasn’t on-campus housing. I had to grow up fast. My every desire wasn’t catered to like at a big college program. It really made me have to fend for myself, take care of myself and grow up a bit more — a lot more in many ways. I had to be an adult, fend for myself.”
Simms went back to elite college football when he joined Tennessee following one season in junior college. He won the starting job midway through the 2010 season, but in 2011 it all came apart with injuries to key wide receivers and a tough schedule and he lost the starting job to Tyler Bray.
He returned home again to begin training for the NFL Draft, but the prospects didn’t look good.
He went undrafted in 2012 and was signed by the Jets ahead of rookie minicamp as just another under-the-radar player. Many scoffed at the decision and chalked it up to his famous last name. But Matt hung around through rookie minicamp, offseason workouts and minicamp last year, up until training camp in August when he was finally cut. He wasn’t supposed to make it that far but each week he showed enough improvement to make it through.
The season was spent working out six days a week in north Jersey at the local Parisi Sports facility near his home. He had workouts, including three more times for the Jets, as well as workouts with the Dolphins and the Bills. But in January when the season finished, the Jets were the first team to call him and offer a futures contract.
“I didn’t hesitate,” Matt said. “I accepted it in a second. Didn’t even think twice about. Just said, ‘Yes sir, I will be there.’ That’s all I wanted. Obviously there were no guarantees but that was enough for me.”
Since then, he’s built on the progress made last season. He staved off the young quarterback competition in minicamp and showed increased accuracy over the middle of the field and improved footwork. And when incumbent No. 3 quarterback Greg McElroy went down with an injury, it was Simms who took his roster spot.
“Unfortunately the nasty part of the business allows for other people to fall into the cracks,” Simms said. “As unfortunate as it was for those individual people, I’m still very grateful for the opportunity to play — to take the game and go.”
And it was Simms who impressed in the fourth and final preseason game and now it is Simms who has come off the bench twice to spell Smith following struggles. After three colleges and a year away from football, he is one step away from the starting job.
“It made me grow as a person,” Matt said. “And when you grow as a person, you also grow as a football player.”
Follow Jets beat writer Kristian Dyer on Twitter @KristianRDyer.