EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- A year ago, the New York Jets' quarterback situation came unraveled in the Snoopy Bowl. Geno Smith fumbled his big chance and Mark Sanchez -- the presumptive starter -- wrecked his shoulder because coach Rex Ryan put him in a bad situation. Hello, chaos.
Everything went the opposite way Friday night, which is to say it went the right way for the Jets. Smith, no longer a nervous wreck, was poised and confident in the Jets' 35-24 loss to the Giants. It was his best outing of the summer, by far. This time, Ryan didn't botch anything; he actually solidified his quarterback position, announcing after the game that -- no drum roll necessary -- Smith will be the opening day starter.
There was an inverted symmetry to the night. Instead of losing a starter, as they did last summer in the Snoopy Bowl, the Jets gained one, if only symbolically. Don't underestimate the importance of quarterback stability. It's the most important position in the sport -- always will be -- and the Jets are way ahead of last year because they can prepare for the season knowing they have the right guy in place.
Smith didn't win the job with his 9-for-14, 137-yard, one-touchdown performance against the Giants. He didn't win it last week, either. In truth, he won it last Dec. 29, in Miami, where he ended his rookie season on the upswing. He parlayed a solid December into the pole position for the 2014 quarterback race. The team brass didn't say it publicly, but it decided to make him the preferred candidate, later signing Michael Vick as a mentor/insurance policy.
The Jets fumbled the message along the way, making it harder to decipher than it needed to be, but their plan never changed: It was Smith's job to lose. Vick's mediocre spring only reinforced their belief that Smith would be The Guy.
Vick never had a chance; it was a competition that wasn't a competition. General manager John Idzik's quote from early in training camp -- "it's not tilted" in Smith's favor -- was laughable at the time. Now, it's a knee-slapper.
Ryan could've made the announcement last week -- everybody knew anyway -- but he waited until after the game for two reasons: He wanted the quasi-competition to run its course, lest he contradict the Idzik mantra. He also wanted to make sure the plan wasn't muddied by an injury, as was the case last summer.
"He played a little better than the last time he was here against the same opponent," said Ryan, remembering Smith's three-interception nightmare that included a brain-cramp safety when he stepped out of the end zone.
The coach was smiling. He likes Smith's "command and presence, the way he can use his legs to get positive yards, and he can throw the football. He can make all the throws. I was really, really, really pleased with how Geno played, especially tonight."
In five preseason quarters, Smith has committed only one turnover -- an interception on a mistimed route last week with David Nelson. That's the biggest difference between last season and now: He doesn't do dumb things. He has completed 70 percent of his passes. If he can be a competent game manager, letting Chris Johnson & Co. do the heavy lifting, the Jets can be a playoff team.
"I knew the entire time that Geno was going to be the starter, but Geno went out and proved that he's capable of running this team and putting the team in a position to win," said Vick, who has handled the situation graciously from the beginning.
Smith hasn't arrived yet. An encouraging finish last season against poor defensive teams, plus some nice preseason moments, doesn't mean the Jets have found their franchise quarterback. Teams do very little game planning in the preseason, so the coverages are easier to read. In many respects, it's Football 101, so take everything with a grain of salt. But give Smith credit for handling it well, improving a little each week. The real tests start in two weeks.
"He's done everything we've asked of him," Ryan said of Smith.
So this year the Jets didn't come away with the Snoopy Trophy. No big deal. At least they're not being dogged for having messed up their quarterback situation.
The injury further complicates the team's issues at cornerback just two weeks before the start of the regular season.
Allen's injury came even as he and Walls -- backups pressed into starting roles for the game -- played fairly well. Allen had a tackle and a pass defended before heading to the locker room with the trainers.
In his debut as starting corner, Walls had three tackles and two defended passes while playing with the first team in the first half. He added another tackle and pass defended by the final buzzer.
One was early on, when he nearly intercepted Reuben Randle deep but kept the ball out of the Giants wide receiver's hands.
"I pretty much read the route, got a good jump on it." I was playing off coverage and I read what he was going to run."
Dawan Landry saw the play unfold, and has seen Walls jump routes like that a dozen times in practice.
"That's one of his favorite routes to be honest," Landry said. "I knew he'd make a play on that."
The performance was a positive for a position filled with question marks. The Jets lost projected starter rookie Dexter McDougle to an ACL injury two weeks ago. At the same time, starter Dee Milliner sustained a high ankle sprain and might not be ready to go at the start of the season when the Jets host Oakland. Veteran Dmitri Patterson, who played but didn't start, has been limited with a leg injury.
"One more week so we need to make sure we're communicating in practice, make sure we get whoever is in the game up to speed and we'll be fine," Landry said. "There's a lot of depth in our secondary so I know we'll be fine."
Criticism has been growing, as some are contending general manager John Idzik didn't shore up the position a little more in the offseason. This is a team that had Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie just two seasons ago. With another player out for an indefinite amount of time, that criticism could get louder.
So when he connected with wide receiver Greg Salas to give the Jets a 24-21 lead over the Giants, Simms started shaking his hips in that iconic way Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz made famous as his end zone dance.
“I was just having some fun,” Simms said. “Nothing personal. I actually worked out with Victor in the offseason this year so I know him personally so it wasn’t to take a jab at him or anything like that. I was just having some fun with something that everyone knows in the stadium.”
Simms wasn't the only player participating in the dance party, as Rueben Randle caught a second-quarter touchdown pass and celebrated by spreading his arms and running around the end zone (much like the old Flight Boys celebration).
As for the salsa, Simms wasn’t quite as impressive as Cruz, and he could tell it by the reaction he got from the nearest ref.
“He just looked at me and started shaking his head,” Simms said. “He was just like, ‘come on man really?’ And I was like, ‘Sorry’ and just kept walking by.”
Ultimately the Giants won the game 35-24, so the touchdown, and the dance, didn’t hold up.
After, Vick said he’d have to check the tape on the moves since he’d missed it live.
“We had a couple different celebrations we were going to do,” Vick said. “I never got around to mine he got his salsa in.”
What was he going to do?
“I can’t tell you,” Vick said with a smile.
"I think he's taken off from where he left off [last season]," Ryan said. "I expect great things in the future."
Smith was the choice over Michael Vick, ending a competition that never really was an open competition. Vick admitted as much throughout the spring, saying he expected Smith to get the job.
Several other players, too, have been referring to Smith as the starter.
"All along, I've had the notion that I'd be out there Week 1," said Smith, who received the news from reporters at his postgame news conference. "The handwriting was pretty much on the wall. It's a big deal, but nothing will change. It's the same mindset for me."
For Smith, the Jets' second-round pick in 2013, it's the first public acknowledgement that he's the full-time starter. He won the job by default as a rookie after Mark Sanchez suffered a season-ending shoulder injury last preseason, ending their competition.
Throughout the 2013 season, Ryan and general manager John Idzik played the semantics game, referring to Smith as their week-to-week starter. Not even a strong finish was enough to garner a public endorsement from the hierarchy.
The Jets signed Vick to a one-year, $4 million contract to push Smith, who remained the preferred choice -- even if the organization never publicly identified him that way.
After Friday's game, Ryan sidestepped a question on whether Smith could now be considered the full-time starter. He was just being coy; this time, it's the real thing.
"This is no slight to Mike Vick, believe me," Ryan said. "I wanted to come out of this knowing we had two really good quarterbacks that we think can win games. In my heart, I think we have two we can win games with."
Smith validated the organization's faith in him by cutting down on his turnovers. In five quarters of play in the preseason, he has thrown only one interception. He has completed 70 percent of his passes (23 for 33) for 268 yards with one touchdown.
He has improved his decision-making, pocket presence and his mechanics. Against the Giants, he was 9-for-14 for 137 yards and a touchdown -- a 1-yard pass to rookie tight end Jace Amaro
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The New York Jets' starters ended the preseason on an upbeat note, combining a well-balanced offense and a tenacious pass rush in a 35-24 loss to the New York Giants on Friday night at MetLife Stadium.
Because Rex Ryan doesn't play his starters in the last preseason game, this was the final dress rehearsal. After a week of mild trash talk between the teams, the Jets relinquished the coveted Snoopy Trophy (wink, wink). Ryan wanted to retain that dog in the worst way, but let's not overlook the big picture: The Jets (2-1) are improving as the regular season draws near.
A few other takeaways from the game:
- Geno Smith (9-for-14, 137 yards) delivered his finest performance of the preseason, leading the Jets to 10 points in the first half. It should've been 14 points, but Eric Decker dropped a pass in the end zone. Smith, a nervous wreck last year against the Giants, calmly directed the offense, making good decisions and mixing screens and intermediate strikes. Obviously, the starting job is a fait accompli. Michael Vick played well in two series with the starters, finding Decker for a touchdown, but don't read anything into that. Ryan used Vick to give him one last run with the first team before the season starts.
- In a surprise, Ryan pulled Smith for the start of the second half. The plan was to play him at least a series in the third quarter, giving him a chance to restart after the halftime break, but you have to wonder if Ryan was haunted by last year's Mark Sanchez injury disaster. This time, he played it safe with his presumptive starter.
- The Jets' beleaguered secondary can't catch a break. The revamped starting unit actually played a decent game against Eli Manning & Co., but safety-turned-cornerback Antonio Allen left in the second quarter with a head injury, the result of a helmet-to-helmet collision with teammate Demario Davis. If Allen has a concussion, he'll have two weeks to recover before the opener. The Jets, already down two starters, can't afford to lose Allen. He was replaced by LeQuan Lewis, who they signed only a couple of weeks ago. Lewis got beat by Rueben Randle for a 15-yard touchdown at the end of the first half.
- All things considered, the secondary was better than it was in last week's Cincinnati debacle, but it benefited from a fierce pass rush. It was a feeding frenzy for Muhammad Wilkerson & Co., which harrassed Eli Manning (12-for-21, 139 yards). The Jets exploited the Giants' rebuilt line, forcing questionable throws. They couldn't capitalize, as Darrin Walls and Kyle Wilson missed would-be interceptions. Wilson had a tough time with Victor Cruz in the slot.
- The Jets have to be thrilled with their running back situation. Chris Johnson started and played well for the second straight week, finishing with 42 yards on nine carries. He got into the open field a few times, and there aren't many players more dangerous in space than Johnson. It was an impressive 1-2 punch, as Chris Ivory came off the bench and hammered away for 50 yards on six carries. Their skill sets are so diverse that it'll be hard for opponents to handle them, especially with creative play-calling.
- Hey -- whaddya know? -- the Jets rediscovered the screen pass. They ripped off three long gainers with well-executed screens, a great way to slow down an aggressive pass rush.
This marks the second straight missed game for both players. Cumberland is dealing with Achilles' tendon tightness and Patterson is recovering from calf, ankle and quadriceps injuries. Because Rex Ryan doesn't play starters in the final preseason game, it likely means that Cumberland and Patterson are done until the regular season.
Rookie Jace Amaro will start for Cumberland, Antonio Allen for Patterson.
Also not playing for the Jets are cornerback Dee Milliner, wide receiver Jalen Saunders and linebacker IK Enemkpali, a surprise inactive. The rookie linebacker hasn't missed any practice time due to injury.
Stephen Hill, wide receiver: Two games, one catch, two targets. It's hard to imagine the New York Jets giving up on a former second-round pick after only two years, but Hill needs a strong showing to make double sure.
Calvin Pryor, safety: Warning to Victor Cruz: Watch yourself on those slant routes. The Jets' No. 1 pick makes his first NFL start.
Antonio Allen, cornerback: Allen gets his second start at corner, which tells me the Jets are concerned about Dee Milliner (high-ankle sprain) and his availability for the season opener. If they felt confident Milliner would be back, they'd start Darrin Walls and Ellis Lankster at corner, putting Allen at his natural spot -- safety. Clearly, they're trying to formulate a contingency plan.
Eric Decker, wide receiver: He returns after missing a game with various leg ailments. Decker, who caught two passes for 12 yards in the opener, is in an important stage of his relationship with Geno Smith. A lot of Decker's bread-and-butter routes are based on timing with the quarterback, which means he and Smith need to get busy.
Chris Ivory, running back: It was the Chris Johnson show last week, so now it's Ivory's turn to chip off some rust. He missed last week with a rib-cartilage injury.
Oday Aboushi, offensive line: He got a surprise start last week at left guard, but he'll be with the backups in this game -- at right tackle. Because of his versatility, Aboushi is developing into an important "swing" player. Brian Winters will start at left guard, but he could get work at right guard with the backups.
He attended the United Way gridiron gala at the Waldorf Astoria in Manhattan, where teammate Muhammad Wilkerson and Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz were honored. Several current and former players from both teams showed up in support. Nelson's radar detected something wasn't quite right in the big, fancy room.
"There was a weird vibe at the gala," he said. "It was like, the Jets were over here, the Giants were over there. Even with the alumni, there was a weird vibe. I mean, guys were friendly, but usually when you get a bunch of football players together, you're hanging out, having a good time. There was a different vibe that night."
Welcome to the most overhyped rivalry in sports.
Sure, there will be a little extra juice at MetLife Stadium, where the two teams will play for something called the Snoopy Trophy (LOL), but Jets-Giants isn't a true rivalry. It can't be a blood rivalry when you play a real game once every four years.
A little perspective, please: This is a preseason game. It doesn't count. Most of the players won't remember the score by next week. Be honest: If it weren't for Mark Sanchez's shoulder injury, the result of Rex Ryan's misguided desire to win at all costs, how many would remember the Jets won last year's game, 24-21, in overtime?
The Jets are approaching this game like it matters, but I don't think it's because there is genuine dislike for the Giants. I think it's because Ryan, master motivator, has manufactured a cause for his players, just like he did last week. Ryan wants the Jets to be the bully of the NFL, a team that intimidates. Giants rookie Andre Williams provided fodder for Ryan by saying the Giants are "the real New York team" -- a remark that has resonated in the Jets' locker room.
"All week long, guys have been talking about it," Nelson said. "This is a preseason game, but there's definitely a different feel. It's not just the third preseason game, it's the Giants. Rex and a couple of coaches have made it known this is a big game for us. Even though it doesn't count for anything, it's still for bragging rights. To have that trophy, or whatever you want to call it, guys play for stuff like that. It adds a little extra motivation."
Presumably, Ryan learned a lesson last year and won't put Geno Smith behind a backup line in garbage time. The goals for this game should be clear: Stay healthy, build some cohesion on both sides of the ball and evaluate "bubble" players.
If you happen to walk away the victor ... well, good for you. But, remember, the goal is the Lombardi, not the Snoopy.
1. Battle of New York: It's MetLife Bowl IV -- or whatever the sponsors are calling it these days. At stake is the coveted Snoopy Trophy (try not to laugh), captured last year by the Jets in a game that will always be remembered for Mark Sanchez's shoulder injury. Most of the players will forget the score by next week, but, yeah, there's a little extra juice. Giants rookie Andre Williams, who doesn't know what he doesn't know, raised eyebrows at One Jets Drive by claiming the Giants are the "real New York team." The question is whether the Jets, who were out of control last week in Cincinnati (see: seven personal fouls), can keep their emotions in check. There's a fine line between toughness and thuggery, and Rex Ryan admits they crossed it a few times last week. This will be a good chance to show they can maintain their cool in a heated game.
2. Prepare for a pillow fight: The Jets' beleaguered secondary faces the Giants' utterly inept passing offense. By the end of the night, one unit could be wiping egg from its face. The secondary will have a new look -- again. Rookie safety Calvin Pryor and cornerback Darrin Walls will replace Jaiquawn Jarrett and Ellis Lankster in the starting lineup, respectively. They're still mixing and matching, and that's not a good thing. By now, you'd like to have your lineups set, letting the starters play into the second half. Basically, the Jets will play with three safeties -- Pryor, Dawan Landry and safety-turned-corner Antonio Allen, who received lukewarm reviews last week. Dee Milliner (high-ankle sprain) isn't close to returning and Dimitri Patterson (calf/ankle/quadriceps) looks like a no-go. The good news is they will face a quarterback, Eli Manning, who looks robotic and uncomfortable in his new West Coast offense. Hey, maybe the Jets can actually force an incompletion this week.
3. Geno, then and now: Geno Smith was a jittery, overwhelmed rookie last summer against the Giants, throwing three interceptions. You hate to put too much emphasis on a preseason game, but this is his chance to show everyone he's not the same quarterback from a year ago. Smith needs a good, long touchdown drive against the Giants' starters, and he'll be able to call the preseason a success. In eight series, he has led the offense to two touchdowns and two field goals, but only one touchdown came against a starting defense -- and that was only a 19-yard drive. Wide receiver Eric Decker returns to the lineup, so look for a lot of Smith to Decker. The issue with Smith isn't whether he can nail down the starting job (he has); it's about developing cohesion with the rest of the unit and building confidence for the regular season. The starters won't play next week, so this is the final dress rehearsal.
The two teams have suffered major injuries in this game, which is a shame. There's nothing more crushing to a team than losing a star player in a meaningless contest. Consider:
- 2013: Mark Sanchez suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, a play that will live in infamy. It occurred in the fourth quarter, with Sanchez playing behind the backup offensive line. Rex Ryan made a mistake by inserting Sanchez, who didn't expect to play at that point, and it turned into a disaster. Ryan has remained steadfast in his belief that he didn't screw up, although he regrets his reaction -- i.e. standing sideways in his postgame news conference.
- 2010: Eli Manning suffered a 12-stitch gash on his head after getting hit by Calvin Pace and Jim Leonhard. He didn't miss any time, but the Jets enjoyed reliving the play. A photo of Manning's bloody head was used on the cover of their playbook when they played the Giants (and lost) near the end of the 2011 season.
- 2008: Giants defensieve end Osi Umenyiora tore cartilage in his knee and needed season-ending surgery.
- 2003: Jets quarterback Chad Pennington was tackled and landed awkwardly, dislocating his left wrist and breaking bones in his hand -- a gruesome injury that prompted the trainers to place a towel over his hand as he walked off the field. Pennington missed six games, essentially ruining the Jets' season.
- 1998: The Giants decided to try star cornerback Jason Sehorn on kickoffs. On the opening return, he was tackled by Chris Hayes and blew out his ACL, ending his season.
- The Jets returned to their Long Island roots Thursday evening, drawing 11,000 fans for a "Family Night" practice at Hofstra Stadium. This was their way of throwing a bone to their Long Island fan base, which lost the team in 2009. Hofstra was the Jets' year-round home for four decades, but that changed when Woody Johnson decided to move the operation to Florham Park, N.J. They promised an annual visit to Hofstra, but those visits stopped in 2010. They finally made it back, and the atmosphere was terrific. Hey, they could be back next summer on Long Island. The Jets are considering SUNY-Farmingdale, about 20 minutes east of Hofstra, as their training-camp site. It would be a great way to reconnect with the loyal fans that feel abandoned.
- With a game Friday night, the Jets dialed it down a few notches in terms of practice intensity, but we saw enough to realize the beleaguered secondary remains in flux. There will be two new starters when they face the New York Giants: Safety Calvin Pryor and cornerback Darrin Walls will replace Jaiquawn Jarrett and Ellis Lankster, respectively. Makes sense. Pryor is too talented to sit on the bench. Walls is a borderline starter, but at least he has experience on the boundary. Lankster played well last week, but his meal ticket is special teams. Basically, the Jets will be playing with three safeties -- Pryor, Dawan Landry and Antonio Allen, who remains at corner. You don't want to be in experimental mode for the third preseason game, but it's not as if the Jets have a lot of options.
- It sure doesn't look like cornerback Dimitri Patterson (leg) will face the Giants; he didn't participate in any of the team drills. Tight end Jeff Cumberland (Achilles' tendon) was limited, so there's a chance he could play. It will probably be a game-time decision.
- Thursday was a homecoming for guard Willie Colon, a Bronx native who played at Hofstra through the 2005 season. Upon arriving at the stadium by bus, Colon caught some flak from his teammates, many of them wondering why his old college number isn't retired and hanging with the other famous alums from Hofstra -- namely Wayne Chrebet, Marques Colston and John Schmitt, the starting center on the Jets' 1968 Super Bowl team. Said Colon: "It brought back memories. I keep getting heckled on why my name and number isn't up there, but Mr. Schmitt has (No. 77)." Hofstra disbanded its football program in 2009.
"We'll answer his remarks tomorrow," guard Willie Colon said Thursday night after a special practice at Hofstra, his alma mater.
Asked if he wishes he could play defense, to get a crack at Williams, Colon smiled.
"That's why I've got Snacks and a top defense to have that conversation with him," said Colon, referring to nose tackle Damon Harrison, who tweeted Wednesday that he's looking forward to seeing "Mr. Williams" on Friday night.
You could see Jets-Giants going down that same path.
"At the end of the day, that's our house and we consider it our house," Colon said. "There's only one way to solve it. That's to win it and beat them."
The tough talk comes off as silly in the preseason, but the Jets are trying to establish an attitude.
"It's going to be a physical game, that's what we want," Ryan said. "Believe me, when the Giants and Jets play, there's extra energy. It's a physical game. It's not chippy, it's physical. That's what the fans can look forward to on both sides."
Said Colon: "We're a chippy team by nature. The bottom line is, anytime we step on the field, we take everything seriously. We play to compete and win."
First-round pick Calvin Pryor will start at safety Friday night when the New York Jets meet the New York Giants in their annual preseason game. Pryor worked with the first team Thursday evening in a special practice at Hofstra, with Rex Ryan confirming later the Louisville Slugger will replace Jaiquawn Jarrett in the lineup.
"You know he's ready for it," Ryan said. "You saw the game (last week), as well as I have. We've seen the practices."
Pryor came off the bench last Saturday night against the Cincinnati Bengals, but he got some time with the starting unit and made a handful of impact plays. He recovered a fumble, broke up two passes and recorded a tackle-for-loss in his NFL debut. He missed the first preseason game because of a concussion.
Promoting Pryor is the right move; it's the only move. He was drafted 18th overall for a reason, and he displayed those reasons last week, bringing an enforcer mentality to the secondary. It would've made no sense to keep him with the backups.
Pryor won't be the only new starter in the secondary. Continuing to experiment even as the preseason winds down, the Jets will give Darrin Walls a shot at cornerback, replacing Ellis Lankster. Walls played well last week, making a late interception, and followed that with a good week of practice.
It has to be disconcerting for Ryan, mixing and matching in the third preseason game, but what choice does he have? Converted safety Antonio Allen will remain at cornerback (this week, anyway), with Dawan Landry holding it all down at strong safety.
It doesn't appear that Dimitri Patterson (leg) will play. He was in uniform Thursday night, but he didn't participate in any positional or team drills. The Jets are counting on him to be ready for the season opener, but they're not sure about Dee Milliner (high-ankle sprain).