In years past, the expectations for Smith would probably have been relatively low, especially against a talented Buccaneers defense that now features former Jets star cornerback Darrelle Revis.
Therefore, the pressure was squarely on Smith to be the quarterback of the present, even if the Jets had initially planned for the rookie to slowly work his way into position to be the signal-caller of the future.
As far as first-time performances go, things certainly could have gone worse for the former West Virginia star.
Smith had his ups and downs throughout the game, but finished a respectable 24-of-38 (63 percent) for 256 yards with one touchdown and one interception. He also managed to lead the team in rushing with 47 yards on six carries.
Most importantly, he managed to lead the Jets to a victory.
It had appeared all but certain that the Buccaneers would take home a victory when Ryan Lindell booted a 37-yard field goal with 34 seconds left to take a two-point lead.
Smith responded by leading New York on a 50-yard field goal drive (aided by a personal foul penalty) to take an 18-17 lead with two seconds remaining.
No one said it would be easy for Smith to win his first professional game—and the rookie wasn't without his missteps—but he did deliver a win, which may be enough to earn him the starting job for good.
Smith's completion percentage of 63.1 was slightly better than what we saw from the rookie in preseason (59.4 percent), though he did make a few mistakes, most notably in the first half.
While he didn't exactly look like a superstar during the course of the game, Smith did enough to manage the game and appears to have the potential of a future starter.
Smith leaned heavily on tight end Kellen Winslow (seven catches for 79 yards and a touchdown), but managed to distribute the football to eight different receivers.
Perhaps most importantly, Smith delivered the ball with more accuracy than last season's starter, Sanchez, who has completed an average of just 55.1 percent of his throws during the course of his career.
There is certainly room for improvement, but if Smith continues to deliver a catchable ball on a consistent basis, it may be very difficult for the Jets to turn back to Sanchez at any point this season.
The one area in which Smith has a clear advantage over Sanchez is his ability to move inside the pocket and avoid pressure.
Unfortunately, Smith's superior mobility did not shine brightly on Sunday, as the rookie fell victim to five Tampa Bay sacks (for 42 yards) and was forced into an interception during the first half.
Smith's worst play came midway through the second quarter, when he fumbled the football on the New York five yard line, which led to an easy Buccaneers touchdown.
While Smith did make a few plays with his legs, the Jets had better hope that this is the last time he leads the team in rushing.
In the end, it is important to recognize the fact that Smith delivered the victory for a Jets team that is not expected to earn many of them this season.
Smith's overall statistics (303 combined yards with one touchdown and two turnovers), were not particularly impressive, but the Jets have certainly seen worse performances from under center over the past couple of seasons.
New York struggled to move the ball on a consistent basis against the Buccaneers, with most of the team's offense coming from Smith himself. The rookie signal-caller provided 6.7 yards per pass attempt and 7.8 yards per carry.
It is difficult to criticize any rookie quarterback who brings home a win in his first professional start, especially one playing for a team so devoid of surrounding offensive talent.
For the majority of the game, Smith managed the contest. His last-minute game-winning drive was likely something the New York front office wasn't expecting and shows that he isn't going to shy away from the game's big moments.
Smith now has one game, and one win, under his belt and will have something to build on when the Jets face the division-rival New England Patriots next Thursday.
For now, the Jets are undefeated and may have found a capable starting quarterback, even if he is not immediately an elite one.
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