By Ernie Palladino
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Don’t look now, but the Jets’ season is on the verge of collapse after their 24-17 loss Sunday to the Lions.
At 1-3 after Detroit beat them despite scant use of the league’s most dangerous receiving weapon, Calvin Johnson, the Jets have reached the point where they can no longer wait for last year’s second-round quarterback to mature into a real winner.
It’s time for Rex Ryan to suck it up, admit that Geno Smith is not the answer, and throw Michael Vick in there. For whatever reason, Smith hasn’t gotten it done, and an offense that has just enough weapons to stay with good teams is suffering under his mistakes.
As is usually the case, this isn’t all Smith’s fault. There was a big dropped pass from Chris Ivory that stopped the final possession, and a couple early on from Eric Decker that should have been caught. It’s hard to blame Smith’s fourth-quarter fumble on him, too, as James Ihedigbo came in clean enough to bang Smith’s still-cocked arm and loosen the ball.
The first of his two turnovers, though, was his fault. He flat-out overthrew Decker by 10 yards in the middle of a nice drive that might have ended in the end zone and turned Chris Johnson’s 35-yard touchdown run six minutes later into a tying score, rather than pulling them to within seven points.
Mistakes like that, and his failure to grow from previous throws of similar kind, leads one to think that Vick now presents at least the offensive solution. A secondary that allows receivers to run free behind it, as Golden Tate did on his first-quarter score, or miss a tackle as Darrin Walls did in allowing Tate to get to the Jets’ 3 to set up Matt Staffford’s clinching TD run, well, that’s for the defensive guru Ryan to figure out.
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s job is to get the offense going, and it is looking ever more like Smith will never serve as that transformative catalyst. For all the improvement he may have made over the summer, Smith has clearly taken a step backward the last two games.
Worse yet, there appears a trust issue between Mornhinweg and Smith. The game plan Sunday fell somewhere short of daring, perhaps even well into the conservative range. Smith threw of all of 30 net yards in the first half before the offensive coordinator took the reins off him. But by then it was too late. And Smith didn’t look great when given the freedom to throw, anyway, even though most of his yards in a 17-for-33, 209-yard day were compiled in the second half.
If Mornhinweg isn’t willing to — or doesn’t — trust Smith to throw it around from the get-go, then he needs to get someone in there he does. His only current alternative is Vick, a veteran who eagerly awaits another opportunity to run an offense. Any doubts about that were dispelled by a telling sideline shot in the fourth quarter of Fox’s broadcast. Smith sat slump-shouldered, directly in front of Vick, who looked like he was wondering if he’d get the call the next series.
At this 1-3 moment, after three straight losses and a disappointing game in which Geno’s offense went three-and-out on five straight possessions, Vick gives the Jets the best chance to win.
Not that he’ll be pretty about it. Vick is 34 years old, after all. But he is still mobile enough, and certainly experienced enough in the reading of defenses to afford Mornhinweg the confidence to call a more liberal game. He has gotten reckless in the past, but that is a part of Vick Atlanta and Philadelphia had learned to cope with.
A little recklessness might not even be a bad thing with desperation banging on the front door.
With the second part of the meat grinder part of the schedule coming up — Chargers, Broncos and Patriots — the Jets certainly are not going to get away with scoring the 17 points they did against the Raiders and Lions, or the 19 that came in last week’s loss to the Bears.
There is no guarantee that Vick produces the miracle turnaround this offense needs. But he is their next, best hope. The calendar still says September, but already the Jets have put themselves into a critical time crunch. The playoffs, something both Ryan and Smith need to secure their continuance in the organization, are slipping away.
Despite the theory that a coach loses a quarterback in mind and body as soon as he’s replaced, the situation dictates change, come what may with Smith’s psyche.
Time’s a-wasting. Ryan needs to make his move now, whatever the painful effects it may have on the man who currently holds the Jets’ 2014 hopes in his uncertain hands.
He must do it before desperation goes through that front door and makes itself comfortable in Ryan’s living room.
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