It's funny to think about after the Jets upset win over the Falcons on Monday Night Football, but there was a time when rookie quarterback Geno Smith couldn't get away from the criticism. He wasn't the perfect quarterback prospect, critics said. He wasn't a good leader. His senior season at West Virginia was filled with highs and lows. Rinse, repeat. That's what Smith dealt with leading up to the 2013 NFL Draft.
He ended up dropping to the second round, too. When he was drafted by the New York Jets, a franchise in turmoil at the time, even fewer people believed the West Virginia standout would be a successful NFL quarterback.
But low and behold, five games into his NFL career, Smith has looked more like a future star than the bust many were expecting. Against the Falcons, he threw for three touchdowns and was poised throughout the close win.
Like the first four games of the season, Smith had his rough moments. That's to be expected of a rookie quarterback. One of his main flaws at West Virginia was his tendency to hang onto the ball too long. That reared its head against the Falcons. Unlike in recent weeks, however, Smith took care of the football. He made that his priority after the turnover-prone start to the season.
"It's a mindset," Smith said on the broadcast after the game. "I made it my duty to not put the ball on the ground, not put my team in jeopardy."
The few mistakes Smith did make didn't snowball, either. Young quarterbacks often lose focus and become increasingly rattled by mistakes. Smith doesn't. He continues to attack and continues to believe in his arm.
Jets coach Rex Ryan couldn't have been happier.
"We were not reckless," Ryan said in his post game press conference. "We were just the opposite. Fearless."
That fearlessness came in handy with under two minutes to play and the Jets down by a point. Smith wasn't rattled. He went through his reads and calmly led New York down the field. Just like he did against the Buccaneers in Week 1. It's going to take more than a late Matt Ryan comeback to keep Smith down.
"My confidence is always sky high," Smith said. "Nothing can bring me down."
It's that attitude that has helped him find success so early in his career. NFL teams didn't think he was worth a first round pick. Most considered the Jets a terrible situation for him to land in. When he was turning the ball over early in the season, people began to pile on.
Smith blocked it all out. He became the first rookie quarterback to throw three touchdowns on Monday Night Football since Dan Mario. He also became the second quarterback since the merger to go on the road, complete more than 75-percent of his passes, throw three touchdowns and win (h/t to Will Brinson of CBS). He has now led a league leading three game-winning drives and is only the second rookie quarterback in the history of Monday Night Football to win on the road.
There will be more lows throughout his career, but on Monday night Smith showed a quality that was on full display at West Virginia; his resolve. Like it or not, that will give Smith a chance to play at a high level in the NFL for a long time.