Geno Smith's NFL debut showed promise. However, he and the New York Jets barely managed a win.
That's especially so because the Jets' Week 2 opponent is 2012's AFC East champion New England Patriots. The Patriots aren't about to gift-wrap the game and hand it to the Jets like Tampa Bay did in Week 1.
Sloppiness characterized Tampa Bay's play, from the helmet malfunctions on the opening drive to the penalties that ultimately caused defeat.
Their last penalty was their undoing.
The Buccaneers had a 17-15 lead with 34 seconds to go. The Jets began their final drive on their own 20-yard line. They moved the ball, but it seemed like too little, too late. Had Lavonte David not committed the personal foul that advanced the ball from the Tampa Bay 45-yard line to the Tampa Bay 30-yard line, time would have most likely run out on the Jets.
Being a source of doom and gloom is not my intention. The Jets showed some encouraging signs in this game. Geno Smith has improved since the Snoopy Bowl, although turnovers are still an issue. Except for wide receiver Vincent Jackson, the defense shut down Tampa's major weapons.
Jets tight end Kellen Winslow showed he can still play. He was the Jets' leading receiver, grabbing seven passes for 79 yards and a touchdown.
However, it was an uneven effort that barely produced a win. Even scarier, that squeaker of a win came against a team that was 7-9 in 2012, performed horribly in the preseason and wasn't picked to make the playoffs. What will the Jets do against better opponents?
It's only Week 2 and we're about to learn, as the Jets face New England.
Granted, the Patriots are undermanned. Wide receiver Danny Amendola, tight end Rob Gronkowski and running back Shane Vereen are injured. However, skill position players have come and gone in the Bill Belichick/Tom Brady era. It will be a bigger surprise if the Patriots don't find a way to compensate than if they do.
That means the Jets had better figure out how to fix the issues the Tampa Bay game revealed. Time is not on their side, as the short week gave them time for only one practice.
However, the Jets' chance to beat New England depends on their ability to make the improvements that Week 1 showed they need.
All game statistics and play-by-play from Fox Sports.
Lavonte David's personal foul near game's end overshadowed his first-half interception.
Reducing turnovers belongs in the "stating the obvious" department.
However, it's still important. Turnovers cost the Jets a touchdown against Tampa Bay.
Geno Smith's fumble deep in Jets territory put the Buccaneers five yards away from the end zone. Doug Martin scored the touchdown on first down.
Moments later, Lavonte David intercepted Smith. That’s the same Lavonte David whose personal foul put the Jets in position to kick the winning field goal. David's interception ended what had been a 40-yard march for the Jets.
Fortunately, Josh Freeman returned the favor on Tampa Bay's next drive by throwing an interception to Dawan Landry. Smith, despite an 18-yard sack, took full advantage by taking the Jets in for a touchdown.
The net result: Points scored from turnovers offset each other. That's no reason for the Jets to celebrate.
New England had an interception and two lost fumbles against the Bills. The Patriots may not practice this week, but in 2012 they led the NFL in generating turnovers while committing the fifth-fewest turnovers themselves.
In other words, if the Jets turn the ball over, they can't count on New England returning the favor.
Clock mismanagement could have lost the Jets' 2013 opener.
On the Jets' winning drive, Geno Smith shouldn't have needed Lavonte David's help to get the Jets into field-goal range.
Questionable clock management deprived Smith of seven extra seconds, as pointed out by Matt Ehalt of ESPN. He should have been able to run another play.
The Buccaneers had driven to the Jets' 19-yard line with 45 seconds to go. They faced a fourth down and were about to attempt the go-ahead field goal. The Jets should have called timeout immediately.
Instead, they waited seven seconds.
Had the Jets called a timeout immediately, they most likely would have begun their final drive with 41 seconds on the clock. Instead, Geno Smith had 34 seconds available.
Had Lavonte David not pushed Smith when he was already out of bounds, the Jets would have been on the Tampa Bay 45-yard line with time for one more play. Their alternatives would have been either a Hail Mary play to the end zone or a 62-yard field-goal attempt.
The Jets cannot count on New England to show the same lack of discipline as Tampa Bay. Against the Bills, the Patriots only lost 36 yards via four penalties. Should the game come down to a last-minute drive, the Jets need every precious second.
They'd better pay closer attention to the clock.
Vincent Jackson had 154 receiving yards against the Jets.
For the most part, the Jets' defense played a solid game against Tampa Bay.
The Jets limited running back Doug Martin to 65 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. They limited Josh Freeman to completing 15 of 31 passes for 210 yards and a touchdown.
However, there was one player they couldn't stop, and that nearly cost them the game.
Wide receiver Vincent Jackson was Freeman's main target. Jackson caught seven passes for 154 yards, averaging 22 yards per catch. However, his day would have been complete had he taken his last reception in for a touchdown.
Only Demario Davis' shoestring tackle prevented Jackson's 37-yard catch-and-run from going 63 yards for a go-ahead score. As it was, Tampa Bay ran three more plays to advance to the Jets' 19-yard line. From there, Rian Lindell kicked the field goal that gave Tampa Bay a 17-15 lead with 34 seconds remaining.
The point here isn't Davis' heroics. It's that as well as the Jets defense played, it couldn't stop Vincent Jackson.
For that matter, Mike Williams didn't do badly either. He caught four passes for 52 yards and a touchdown, averaging 13 yards per catch.
The reason why may have been cornerback play.
According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), neither rookie Dee Milliner nor fellow cornerback Antonio Cromartie was stellar in pass coverage. Cromartie's minus-1.3 grade was bad enough. Milliner's minus-2.8 grade was worse. Outstanding cornerback play didn't explain Josh Freeman's poor day.
The Jets are lucky that Danny Amendola is injured. However, that doesn't mean Tom Brady won't exploit any perceived weakness. He'll go after Milliner and Cromartie with the receivers he has, daring the Jets' cornerbacks to stop them. Unless Milliner and Cromartie step up, it could be a long evening for the Jets' defense.
Bilal Powell's 29 rushing yards led Jets running backs. He also caught four passes for 35 yards.
Gaining 91 yards on the ground against 2012's leading run defense superficially looks okay.
However, over half of those yards, 47 yards in fact, came from quarterback Geno Smith. The problem is that Smith runs from necessity, not by design. Most, if not all, of his runs were attempts to evade pressure and get positive yardage from busted pass attempts.
Running backs Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell combined for 44 yards on 22 carries. That's an average of 2.0 yards per carry. Not good enough.
New England, despite injuries to wide receiver Danny Amendola and tight end Rob Gronkowski, relies on Tom Brady's arm to score points. The Patriots' high-speed, high-octane offense is one of several the Jets face this year, along with those of Atlanta and New Orleans. Plus, the Jets will face less elite units whose quarterbacks can still take over a game.
The best way to keep these teams off the scoreboard is to deny them the football. That means winning the time of possession battle.
To that end, a solid ground game that consumes both yards and clock is essential.
Direct snaps and trick formations can help the ground game, but they are insufficient in themselves. Improving the running game begins with the offensive line. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), tackle Austin Howard was the only starting lineman with a positive run-blocking grade. Maybe it was just an off day. The worst grade of minus-1.9 went to established tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson.
In the Buffalo Bills' near-upset of the Patriots, running backs C.J. Spiller and Fred Jackson carried the ball 30 times for 108 yards, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. That's not outstanding.
However, if the Jets achieve similar numbers in Foxborough, it will be a step in the right direction.
In his first game since 2012's Lisfranc injury, Santonio Holmes caught one pass for 13 yards.
Here's the breakdown of the Jets' receiving performance against Tampa Bay:
- Slot receiver (Jeremy Kerley): Three catches for 45 yards, 15.0 yards per catch
- Running backs (Tommy Bohanon/Bilal Powell): Five catches for 56 yards, 11.2 yards per catch
- Tight ends (Kellen Winslow/Konrad Reuland): Eight catches for 86 yards, 10.8 yards per catch
- Outside wide receivers (Santonio Holmes/Stephen Hill/Clyde Gates): Eight catches for 69 yards, 8.6 yards per catch
Outside wide receiver, the position that's supposed to provide the biggest plays, instead provided the smallest.
That's not surprising, given the following factors:
- Darrelle Revis proved to be a formidable opponent. The Jets tested Revis early, and he passed with flying colors. According to Pro Football Focus' Gordon McGuinness, the only catch Revis allowed was the result of a teammate blocking him out of the play.
- It was Geno Smith's first regular-season NFL game. Maybe offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was trying to avoid high-risk passes to give rookie quarterback Geno Smith a better chance of playing error-free football. Deep passes take longer to develop. What's more, if Smith stares down his target during such a play, defenders will follow his eyes and have a better chance of thwarting the play.
In other words, maybe the wide receivers deserve a break here.
However, as Smith gains experience, they must become a bigger part of the game plan. Otherwise the short and mid-range passing game will get increasingly difficult as defenses ignore the possibility of a deep threat.
Smith has the physical tools to complete passes that Mark Sanchez could not. Santonio Holmes, the Jets' most feared offensive threat, is back. Clyde Gates is a speed merchant. Stephen Hill has improved his route running and concentration. Ryan Spadola is young and hungry.
This receiving corps is ready to make some noise.
There's a piece of bad news that makes outside wide receiver improvement especially urgent: Jeremy Kerley suffered a concussion against Tampa Bay. The Jets won't have their second-leading receiver from Week 1. Ben Obomanu will be a competent substitute, but Kerley's absence will put pressure on other receivers to make plays.
When Mornhinweg starts to call bigger plays for outside wide receivers, the entire offense will benefit.
Follow Philip Schawillie on Twitter: @digitaltechguid