By Ernie Palladino
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Now the Jets are ready to flip the page. Start a new chapter. Dump the old and usher in the new.
If Rex Ryan and John Idzik have indeed decided that the Geno Smith era will begin in earnest Sunday, the Jets will not just be committing to change from Mark Sanchez, but will effectively move away from Ryan. Jets fans will now witness the final phase of the coach’s fall from blustery braggart to humbled loser, and now to sacrifice at Idzik’s altar.
It will go like this. Ryan, in a position after two horrid seasons where he must show steady growth in his team, will now theoretically stick with the rookie Smith and all but assure himself of a second consecutive losing season. Word was that he might have been leaning toward the safe option in Sanchez, but that fateful fourth-quarter encounter with since-released Giants defensive tackle Marvin Austin put Smith in the driver’s seat by default.
Shortly thereafter, the decision reportedly was made to stick with Smith, whose mid-camp ankle sprain still hasn’t completely healed.
Ryan could have named Smith the Sept. 8 starter against Tampa Bay, leaving the door open for Sanchez and his shoulder to return the following week. But the weekend’s revelation that the Jets have gone into page-turning mode indicated a reversal of that thinking, possibly one that will have fatal job consequences for the man who tattooed his wife wearing a No. 6 Sanchez jersey to his shoulder.
It will come down to whatever number Idzik believes is good enough to keep Mike Tannenbaum’s coach around. By allowing Smith to learn on the job, the Jets might be dooming themselves to a six-win season. Does Rex survive that? Under normal circumstances, probably not.
It would be one thing if Ryan was Idzik’s guy. Then, a little leeway would be understandable. But general managers brought in from the outside tend to have short fuses for inherited coaches. They want their own guy in there. Another flameout, even one created because of a decision ultimately beneficial to the organization’s future, could become the ideal excuse for Idzik to lobby Ryan fan Woody Johnson for change up top.
The flip side is that Idzik could stick with Ryan, realizing that any switch to a rookie quarterback represents a potential sacrifice of a season. The past two years make such an appraisal difficult, however. These are not the Giants, after all. When Tom Coughlin pulled Kurt Warner for Eli Manning after a 5-4 start in 2004, the final 6-10 mark had no effect on Coughlin’s job status. It was the coach’s first season, and both he and GM Ernie Accorsi well knew Manning’s 1-6 record marked a necessary step in his development and the team’s future advancement. Basically, they sacrificed a potential playoff contender.
If Idzik takes the same approach, then Ryan might just survive regardless of the final record.
The more likely scenario is that Ryan steps up to the coaching gallows at season’s end. That is, unless Smith gets hurt, he re-installs Sanchez, and the Jets take flight. It’s not beyond the realm of possibility. Like him or hate him, Sanchez still gives the Jets the best chance to win, if only because of his experience. This is an offense that could not overcome Sanchez’ 52 turnovers the last two years. It certainly won’t survive a kid quarterback throwing two or three bad interceptions each game.
And, let’s face it, starting quarterbacks go down an awful lot in this league. No matter what the plan, Sanchez probably isn’t done in MetLife Stadium yet.
Bottom line, if Smith is really the way Ryan wants to go, he can hope for only two outcomes regarding his coaching career.
That Idzik shows the patience of Job with both Smith and Ryan as his second-round pick goes through the bumps, or that he at least applies the axe to Ryan’s neck in a merciful, quick manner after the dust Smith kicks up settles at season’s end.
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