For the first time in his NFL career, Geno Smith got his feet wet tonight as the Jets and their cross-town rivals renewed their summer rivalry at MetLife Stadium. But the rookie — starting his first pro game — didn't always find smooth water, throwing three first half interceptions and running out of the end zone in the fourth quarter for a safety.
And despite leading the Jets on two scoring drives, you have to wonder if Smith's bid to be the opening day starter for the Green & White may have floated away. (Mark Sanchez absorbed a crushing hit late, so health may factor into who is ultimately the Week 1 starter.)
In what was an ominous sign to start, Smith's first pass was batted down by Giants DL Linval Joseph. But three of Joseph's teammates held on to Smith throws for picks — CB Prince Amukamara and S Stevie Brown in the first stanza and then DE Justin Tuck in the second quarter.
Rookie wideout Ryan Spadola had his hands on the first turnover, but the ball was thrown behind and the Prince was guilty of thievery. Then with just seconds remaining in the first, Smith attempted to force a ball to TE Kellen Winslow Jr. in a high traffic zone and was victimized by Brown. With less than eight minutes remaining before the half, Tuck remained stationary in coverage and the ball found him instead of TE Jeff Cumberland.
"They don't need to be thrown. Turnovers are never something that we want to do," said No. 7. "We don't want to put our defense in a tough spot."
Smith, who had just six interceptions last season at WVU and owned a 1.4% interception in college, had three INTS on his first 20 attempts. Before his stat line got messy, Smith led the Green & White to a TD drive on its second offensive possession. Hitting on four of five and getting the Giants to jump offside on a couple of occasions, Smith stayed poised in the pocket behind great protection to connect with Ben Obomanu on a 22-yard score that evened things at 7 in the first quarter.
Offensive coordinator Marty Morhninweg turned Smith loose in the first half, throwing the ball 25 times. But the 22-year-old, who worked under center, was frequently in shotgun and even took a couple of pistol snaps, completed only 44% of his passes. The decision making and accuracy that Mornhinweg and QB coach David Lee demand from their signal callers wasn't there early.
"There were some good moments and there were some low moments," said head coach Rex Ryan.
This was Smith's first game action since tweaking his right ankle in the Jets' preseason opener at Detroit. After laboring in practice last week, Smith was on the sideline when Mark Sanchez seemed to leave the door open with an up, down and up performance in a 37-13 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Sanchez had three critical mistakes in preseason play, making bad decisions on a pick-six in Motown and a red zone INT & bad clock management against J-Ville. But the fifth-year veteran, a career 55% passer, also has completed 64% of his tosses and led six scoring drives. Sanchez couldn't handle a Stephen Peterman snap in the fourth either as Jets' QBs were charged with four turnovers in all.
Displaying resolve in the second half, Smith led the Jets on a seven play, 57-yard scoring drive that culminated on a Bilal Powell 2-yard TD from the Wildcat. Setting his feet and appearing poised in the pocket, Smith (16-30-199-1TD-3INT) made some of his better throws of the evening. But his final snap resulted in two points for the Giants when a heavily pressured Smith ran out of real estate in the end zone and stepped out of bounds.
"As long as Rex and the committee are evaluating us, I think I have a shot," Smith said of the starting spot. "As I've stated, I don't think one game, one practice, one day will tell you the type of quarterback I am. I think it takes a ton of evaluation to get this thing done."
The Green & White finally got a true evaluation of Smith in three-plus quarters of work. And the talented rookie had his share of promising moments, but these NFL waters can be treacherous for any young passer.