Rookie QB Faces Tough Test Against Pesky New Orleans 'D'

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Marty Mornhinweg sat down for his weekly news conference and was all set to open with a review of the New York Jets’ last game.

Without saying a word about the 49-9 loss to Cincinnati on Sunday, the offensive coordinator kept a straight face.

“All right,” Mornhinweg deadpanned Thursday, “let’s get to New Orleans.”

When you have a loss that ugly, not much needs to be said. It was brutal, and Mornhinweg knows it. Coach Rex Ryan even opted out of the usual team film session Monday so the Jets could move on quickly.

“Look, we took some steps backward,” Mornhinweg said. “Now, we’ve got to take some steps forward. It’s just that simple. I’ve got to do a better job, period, putting the guys in a little bit better spots.”

The Jets put up 240 total yards of offense against the Bengals, and rookie Geno Smith was 20 of 30 for 159 yards and two interceptions, both of which were returned for touchdowns.

Smith and the offense have been a roller coaster through the first eight games, a consistent inconsistency that has led to a 4-4 record. The Jets have the 17th-ranked overall offense, which includes being the No. 13 rushing team and 22nd passing.

“We’ve played probably some decent, pretty good, solid offensive football and then we’ve played some really poor offensive football,” Mornhinweg said. “And then we’ve come back and played some good, solid football. So, we’re looking for that good, solid offensive football really consistently.

“It seems like we’ve been up and down and up and down, so there you go.”

Mornhinweg pointed the finger at himself, adding that he’s not “beating myself up” about the way the offense performed last week. But he also acknowledged that the game got away quickly as the Bengals jumped to a 14-0 lead and were ahead 28-6 by halftime.

“We’ve just got to do a better job, especially at the start of the game, because as you know we were completely out of the plan very quickly,” Mornhinweg said.

The Jets haven’t lost – or won – consecutive games this season, and now they face one of the NFL’s toughest defenses in the New Orleans Saints.

They’re the 12th-ranked defense, and they disrupt quarterbacks on a regular basis. The Saints have 24 sacks, including at least one by 12 players. They also have nine interceptions and 10 forced fumbles, six of which they’ve recovered.

“Yeah, we’ve got to protect the ball,” Smith said. “I’ve got to protect the ball. They have caused a few turnovers and that’s kind of the mentality of the defense. They try to throw a lot at you and get you out of rhythm, get you to rush some things. So, just staying patient, knowing where I’m going with the ball and just being sharp.”

That’s been much easier said than done for Smith. He has eight touchdowns and 13 interceptions, a total that ranks third in the NFL and first in the AFC. Smith has also been sacked 28 times, a total that is second in the NFL only to the 32 by Miami’s Ryan Tannehill.

Some of the sacks have come because of Smith’s tendency to sometimes hold onto the ball a bit too long, but there have also been occasional breakdowns on the offensive line. He was sacked three times by Cincinnati on Sunday before being replaced by Matt Simms.

“I know we’re way better than that,” right guard Willie Colon said of the team’s performance. “I know that we’re capable of playing a lot better and doing a lot better.”

Smith has been saying that of himself ever since his first practice with the Jets. He’s a tantalizing talent: a big-armed quarterback who can also make plays with his legs. Smith also is the first rookie since the merger in 1970 to lead a winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime four times in his first seven games.

But, there have also been the handfuls of mistakes, including the three interceptions returned for touchdowns in the last two games. Five of his 13 interceptions have come in the fourth quarter, and Smith has just one game in which he hasn’t had a turnover.

“I do understand that there’s lots to learn, but I know what I’m capable of,” Smith said. “For me, it’s just about sticking to it, just continuing to work hard, staying level-headed. That comes naturally. So, (I’m) just going to stick to my guns, just work hard and try and improve every single day.”

Smith is ready to move on from a bad performance against the Bengals.

“I’m the type of guy that’s always going to put it behind me because you can’t get it back,” he said this week. “It’s come and gone. As bad as I want to take some of those throws back, to have some of those plays back, you can’t get them back.”

Mornhinweg has been mostly encouraged by the quarterback despite the mistakes. Part of it has been Smith’s refusal to blame anyone other than himself for his struggles. There’s also his motivation to be better – and make the offense better in the process.

“Very few days go by,” Mornhinweg said, “where I’m not impressed with the man.”

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