By Kristian Dyer
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Without so much as taking a single snap on Saturday night, Geno Smith became the future of the Jets franchise for the simple reason that he isn’t Mark Sanchez. Any hope of reclaiming Sanchez as a Jet let alone an NFL quarterback melted away in a second quarter that was a brainfumble in so many ways.
Maybe not immediately, but long-term, Smith just won the quarterback battle on Saturday night – and he didn’t even play.
It has now become clear that this season will be the fifth and final one for Sanchez in green and white as the Jets 37-13 preseason win over the Jaguars showed a quarterback who has regressed from his first two years in the league. Even during those first two seasons in the league when the Jets had those magical playoff runs, at no point from now until then has he proven himself to be anything but a game manager.
Now, he can’t even do that.
Smith, sidelined with an ankle injury, emerged from the game as the player who will finish this season as the starting quarterback of the Jets. There is simply no doubt about that anymore. A disastrous sequence at the end of the first half with the Jets on the Jaguars 6-yard line and six seconds before halftime should have resulted in a minimum of three points.
Instead, Sanchez used up all six seconds on one broken play and the Jets walked away empty-handed after being gifted a chance to score. It was, at its very core, typical Sanchez. It is the reason why he won’t be here next year and Smith will be. Earlier in that same second quarter, Sanchez threw a red zone interception, again taking away points from the Jets. Against a real opponent in a real game, those two decisions likely would have doomed the Jets to a loss.
Against the lowly Jaguars in a preseason game, it is easy enough for Sanchez to shrug aside the plays, which is exactly what he did after the game. But a simple “I know better than that and it won’t happen” from the soon to be fifth year quarterback isn’t enough. Sanchez should know better and time and time again, he doesn’t play better.
Standing on the sidelines, motionless and with little facial expression, Smith took a step closer to eventually being the starting quarterback of this team sooner rather than later. It is a quarterback competition that he was always destined to win as long as Sanchez was his main competition. Sanchez has proven to be Sanchez and Smith isn’t.
That’s enough right now to win the job. In fact, Smith simply needs to give Sanchez enough rope to hang himself in this quarterback competition. As Saturday night proved, Sanchez can only be so good for so long. A strong first quarter saw a mental midget emerge in the second quarter as mistake after mistake piled up. The NFL isn’t about playing mistake free football – the athletes at this level are simply too good to not make plays. But how a player rebounds from getting beaten, how he keeps a mistake from becoming plural and becoming mistakes is the mark of a difference maker in the NFL.
As Saturday night proved, it is only ever a downward spiral for Sanchez and his frail psyche as he can’t rebound after an error or a mental lapse. Smith’s game is raw and unrefined. He has difficulties in his pocket presence, struggles down the field and is still adjusting to playing under center and not out of the shotgun.
His talent and potential is undeniable and while he might not be ready to start come Week 1 of the regular season and in all likelihood won’t start that early on, it is now clear that at some point this year, he will emerge ahead of his competition a top the depth chart.
If only because his name isn’t Sanchez.
Kristian R. Dyer covers college football for Metro New York and also contributes to Yahoo! Sports. He can be followed for news and insight on Twitter @KristianRDyer.
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