Geno Smith Takes Huge Step in Maturation During Up-and-Down Rookie Season
On Monday night, Smith was owning the Atlanta Falcons defense by making few, if any, mistakes in New York's 30-28 win at the Georgia Dome.
As expected for a rookie signal-caller, it's been an up-and-down season for Smith. The lowest and highest points have both come in the past eight days.
The fact that Geno was able to rebound so quickly, after turning the ball over four times against the Titans, is a testament to his character, work ethic and dedication. Not a lot of people would think that Smith would play cooler than Matty Ice on prime time, but he stepped up on the big stage and proved that he can be counted on to correct his mistakes.
In fact, Geno Smith became just the first rookie quarteback to get a win on the road in a non-replacement game in the 44-year history of Monday Night Football.
It hasn't always been so glorious.
At times, he has cost his team the game with untimely turnovers and migraine-inducing mistakes. Now, three times on the season, he has lifted his team to victory with his play.
He is building an early reputation for late-game heroics. He has led three game-winning drives this season and two fourth-quarter comebacks when trailing.
It seems so complicated, but Smith keeps it simple.
"Just go out there, focus on my reads and stick to my fundamentals," Smith said in a postgame interview on ESPN. "I've been in this situation time and time again, and it's great to come out here and get a team victory."
Smith went 4-of-4 for 37 yards on the final drive, and he completed passes to three different receivers. On the night, he went a fantastic 16-of-20 for 199 yards and three touchdowns, posting a 147.7 passer rating in the process—more than double his passer rating on the season prior to Monday (68.6).
There were beautiful throws from beginning to end, but his second-quarter, 20-yard touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Cumberland might have been one of the best balls he's thrown all season.
He had Cumberland in single coverage straight down the seam on linebacker Joplo Bartu. Once Cumberland got into his route, Bartu was turned around beyond repair and couldn't turn to look for the ball before Cumberland was leaping over him for the TD catch. Smith threw the ball perfectly on the back shoulder, though anything square over Bartu's head would probably have worked.
Still, by putting it on the back shoulder, it gave his receiver the only chance to make a play on the ball, and reduced the risk of an interception.
On that note, the most important thing to getting the victory was Smith staying clean on the turnover sheet. Through the first four games of the season, Smith turned the ball over 11 times—second-most in the NFL behind Giants quarterback Eli Manning.
On Monday night, he posted the elusive doughnut in the turnover column.
"It's a mindset," Smith said. "I made it my duty to come out here and not put the ball on the ground and not put the team in jeopardy."
Against the Patriots, Smith threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter en route to a 13-10 loss. Last Sunday against the Titans, he turned it over four times en route to a 38-13 blowout.
It would be easy for most rookies to go into their shells and have their confidence shot for the rest of the season.
Smith, however, isn't most rookies.
"My confidence is always sky high," he said. "Nothing can bring me down."
He had no reason to be down amid a near-perfect performance.
The imperfect QB is perfect -- Geno has a 158.3 passer rating. #Jets— Rich Cimini (@RichCimini) October 8, 2013
Smith's 11 turnovers through four games were tied for the second-most for a rookie QB since 1998. The man he tied? Ryan Leaf.
The man they trail? Peyton Manning, with 12.
Talk about opposite ends of the spectrum.
Those examples serve as a cautionary tale that, while Smith has shown plenty of potential, his career story is still in the writing process. That being said, the plot and character development is starting to take shape.
We know that Geno Smith has a lot of talent, but the Jets have more than just talent—they have a leader, a player who holds himself accountable, and a player who is dedicated to improving.
A rookie season will be filled with the inevitable ups and downs, but as long as the line-of-best-fit remains an upward-pointing trajectory, it's safe to say that progress is being made.
Erik Frenz is also a Patriots/AFC East writer for Boston.com. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes obtained firsthand or via team news releases.
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