Jets Must Suffer Smith's Growing Pains, Even If Season Spirals Downward

By Ernie Palladino
» More Ernie Palladino Columns

You just had to know the rumbling was going to start as soon as Rex Ryan pulled Geno Smith for Matt Simms on Sunday. It won’t really go away until the Jets’ rookie non-sensation has another solid game which, if his disaster up in Buffalo was any indication, may not come until 2014 at the earliest.

He’ll be in there, though. Ryan said it Monday “without question.” Simms, son of Phil and by definition the team’s most popular player — all backup quarterbacks fit that mold when the starter is going bad — will stay firmly planted on the sideline unless Smith shows some early signs of another four-turnover catastrophe. Of course, the Jets can’t afford such a thing now as they cling to the final wild-card spot at 5-5. So Ryan undoubtedly will have Smith on a short leash in Baltimore.

For the loud few who really, truly believe that Simms the Younger is the spark the Jets need, they have a lot of disappointment awaiting them. Ryan won’t abandon Smith anytime soon. For better or for worse, Ryan made his bed with John Idzik’s second-round pick in the preseason once Mark Sanchez went down against the Giants in the fourth quarter. Probably even before that, since nobody ever forgot about the 52 turnovers Sanchez butt-bungled his way through over the previous two seasons.

So now, Ryan and Idzik are stuck with Smith. Football coaches don’t generally like to make sweeping changes unless they’re absolutely dictated, and going from starter to backup is one of the most dramatic a coach can make. It’s not like switching to a reserve defensive tackle. Quarterbacks change the whole nature of the offense, and this offense is based around Smith right now.

The fact the kid needs an hour and a half to throw the ball effectively, the habit he has of locking onto receivers, and his seeming lack of the internal pass-rush clock all mature quarterbacks possess matters little here. Ryan made up his mind, whether he was pushed into it by Idzik or not. Now he must suffer Smith’s growing pains, even if the stats grow worse and the season spirals downward.

Worst-case scenario, both Ryan and Idzik face a hard reality that they’ve seen the best of Smith. But that still won’t mean Simms gets a chance. Not a significant one, anyway. It will simply mean that they ride it out with Smith and then start all over again with a free agent veteran or a first-round guy in a draft lousy with quality quarterbacks.

It’s entirely possible that Rex might not be around for that. Idzik hasn’t gone out of his way to express undying support for the coach. Put a few more ugly setbacks back to back, something the Jets haven’t done in a season of alternating wins and losses, and the exit door could crack that much wider for Ryan.

Certainly, if Smith continues to regress, it won’t look good for him. Then again, how much further can he sink than the 10.1 passer rating he compiled in Buffalo?

Well, he can reach Eli Manning levels, circa 2004. The man who won two Super Bowls for the Giants compiled a 0.0 rating in Baltimore in his fourth career start. That game ironically ended with the same score as Smith’s disaster. But Tom Coughlin stuck with him even as he struggled the next couple of seasons, and was rewarded in 2007 and 2011.

Those years lie well in the rear-view mirror now, and Giants fans are struggling to understand the current Manning and his veritable cornucopia of interceptions.

Coughlin turned the page. Once Sanchez was injured, Ryan went with the lesser of two evils.

However it happened, Ryan has wedded himself to Smith.

The only thing that will break them apart now is a divorce.

That would end with Ryan packing his clothes and leaving the house.

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