EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - His last pass that mattered came with 23 seconds left. His team trailed by a touchdown. A colossal 99-yard last-ditch, scoring bomb from Geno Smith would give the New York Jets season and his psyche a craved, sensational jolt.
But Smith's throw from a few steps back into his end zone was plucked by Denver Broncos cornerback Aqib Talib at the Jets 22-yard line on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Talib ran it easily back into the Jets end zone. And Smith just stood there, transfixed. He stood smack in the middle of that end zone where the word "JETS" was painted, on the "T." His dropback, his throw, it all happened inside that "T." He licked his lips. He shook his head. He finally walked off the field and toward his bench.
Smith and the Jets lost to Denver, 31-17, in a game that they led early and managed to keep viable all afternoon. Smith threw for 190 yards and two touchdowns. His pick was a desperation pass in a desolate situation but it punctuated what has transpired with the now 1-5 Jets en route to five consecutive losses.
Teachable moments turn into torture, sticking with their plan has turned into torture and their season with a divisional road game in three days at the New England Patriots has turned into utter torture.
Geno and the Jets
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Geno and the Jets
Jets owner Woody Johnson said before this avalanche of torture surfaced that another 8-8 season like the Jets endured last season would not be good enough. Smith started every game last season. Head coach Rex Ryan coached every game.
What does that mean now for Smith, for Ryan, since the Jets would have to blaze to an 8-2 record the rest of the way to be better than 8-8?
Well, the Jets are going to take a look-see at Ryan when this mess is over that will take into account what he has done with what he has and how it all progressed. Ryan should and will get more leeway than most imagine, because both Johnson and general manager John Idzik know this team has glaring deficiencies at cornerback, receiver and along the offensive line that both Johnson and Idzik know are their faults more than Ryan's. I am told by Jets sources that it is not a certainty at all that Ryan will be fired. The only certainty is that this roster will undergo another major tinkering that could border an overhaul.
And Geno Smith? He is not going anywhere.
The Jets have planned their work and are working their plan with Smith. He is a second-year quarterback who has now started 22 consecutive NFL games. That is, in reality, a meager sampling. The Jets believe that he has the arm, the work ethic, the intelligence and the potential to be their long-term quarterback. He needs to play. He will play.
The only thing that will get him pulled this season is if the Jets see that he is losing confidence. If he becomes downtrodden. Too tortured.
The Jets look at the team that shares their stadium and see that Eli Manning has made 157 consecutive New York Giants starts at quarterback. The Jets have tried the Brett Favre route (2008) and the Mark Sanchez-Kellen Clemons-Greg McElroy route since Favre. The Jets have trotted out 26 different starting quarterbacks since Joe Namath last played in 1976.
They want Smith to be The Guy, and he is going to play this season and beyond to give him every chance to be The Guy. The Jets may do some flip-flopping nearly everywhere else, but Smith has a long rope and is clearly defined as a key cornerstone of their hopes.
When you have Peyton Manning on the other side, throwing laser, tight-windowed, accurate passes to bigger and better receivers, things become magnified. But the Jets insist that the course they are taking with Smith might be torturous, but in the end may be Manning-like.
You see it?
"He told me to keep my head up, keep at it," Smith said of his postgame visit with Manning.
Talib said of Smith: "He played better against us than some of what I saw on film of him lately. He's a good quarterback. He can be a good long-term quarterback in this league. I say this, he's got confidence. I see it in his demeanor. He doesn't come out and lay down at any time. I think he's got to work on his eyes, though."
That would be looking off defenders. Seeing what he should see instead of what he wants to see.
Along with seeing his way through the torture.
"We have confidence in our quarterback," Jets cornerback Phillip Adams said. "He studies hard. He works hard. There is no quit in him. He doesn't back down. He just has to keep on going forward. He needs this experience. We've got to do more around him."
That has become a tired lament with the Jets, but it remains true. Especially for the Jets running game.
It is built in a three-headed order -- Chris Ivory, Chris Johnson and Bilal Powell -- that operated in tortured dysfunction against the Broncos. Ryan says of his offense: "We're built to run it." But this trio rushed 13 times for 20 yards without one of them managing a run longer than 5 yards against Denver. At halftime when the Jets trailed 17-7 the numbers for the only backs to get the ball -- Ivory (six carries) and Johnson (two carries) -- were eight for 8 yards with a long run of 4 yards by Johnson.
The Jets need more imagination in their running game, more chances for Johnson and Powell to get in open spaces on the edges. Johnson needs more carries in especially creative order. The Jets need to spread the formations and run the ball with as much imagination as they attempt to create in their passing game. They need more execution all around on their offense and more production from everyone, including Smith.
They get it here, they get it there, but the only real constant is torture.
Smith is going to keep being tossed right out there, right in it until he shows he can't take the torture anymore. That means ups, that means downs and until he and the all of the Jets around him coalesce, that means more losses.
"I'm frustrated," Smith said. "Five losses in a row will make everyone frustrated. No one cares. We've got games ahead we've got to still go and play. We capitalized on a few things but just not enough."
He nailed that -- to a "T."