In one sense, Saturday night's MetLife Bowl was Geno Smith's first star turn as a starting quarterback for the Green & White. In another sense, it was the latest round of Jets QB Knockout.
And head coach Rex Ryan said the prizefight will go will go on after Smith played inconsistently into the fourth quarter and the Snoopy Trophy was presented to the Jets after securing their 24-21 "road" victory in overtime at MetLife Stadium. The win was fashioned on heroics involving two Matt Simms passes to Ryan Spadola after both Smith and Mark Sanchez had left the game.
"Like we've said from day one, whenever we think the appropriate time is, we'll make that call," Ryan said, adding about the chances of seeing Smith or Sanchez in the preseason finale against the Eagles on Thursday night, "If that's what we think we need to see, then we'll take it all the way up."
Sanchez came in with 11:21 to play in the game, took a sack on his first play, then fumbled a shotgun snap from Stephen Peterman that Mark Herzlich, the Giants' backup MLB, pounced on at the Jets 39. Then on his second completion of the next drive, he was crushed after the throw by DT Marvin Austin and left the field windmilling his right arm around to shake out the soreness. His night was done almost before it started.
"It was a coach's decision all the way," Ryan said of putting Sanchez in at that time. "It was my decision. You're talking about competing. All week you're talking about winning a game and competing and that was my decision."
Ryan added later about the extent of the injury to Sanchez, "We know he has a shoulder injury. The severity of it, we do not know yet."
That series of events followed Smith's 48:39 of play that wove its way around two touchdown drives but also through four turnovers, three of which were Smith interceptions.
"I don't do grades," Smith said afterward, "but overall I think this is just another learning experience for me, lots of teaching tape. It felt good to be out there with my teammates competing once again, and it was a great job, a good team win."
Smith had a productive second series of the game, answering David Wilson's 84-yard touchdown burst off left tackle on the Giants' first offensive play with an 86-yard march built on four consecutive Giants defensive penalties and four Smith completions, the final one going for 22 yards to WR Ben Obomanu for the tying score.
From there the second-round rookie scuffled through the rest of the first half. His next six possessions produced three first downs, three punts and three interceptions.
"I felt pretty comfortable, felt relaxed sitting back there in the pocket," Smith said. "Other than those mistakes, which I put entirely on myself, I felt pretty relaxed out there."
The three giveaways and the sluggish offense could have been devastating — except that the first defense, stung by the Wilson bolt from the blue, stepped it up the rest of the half and especially after those turnovers, holding the Giants to a punt, a Josh Brown 40-yard field goal, and a Brown miss from 53 yards out.
The defense, led by front-liners Damon Harrison (playing for injured Kenrick Ellis), rookie Sheldon Richardson and veteran Muhammad Wilkerson, truly sucked it up late in the first half, after Eli Manning's 34-yard completion to Hakeem Nicks over CB Kyle Wilson to the Jets 4.
The first defense pitched a spirited goal-line stand from there, stopping two runs and two passes, the final throw a Dawan Landry defense in the end zone on Manning's fade to Nicks.
That kept the Jets' deficit at the half at 10-7, but it didn't pretty up the offense's numbers. Smith, who suffered several dropped passes by his receivers, completed 11 of 25 for 134 yards, and his nine possessions in the first two quarters produced just those seven points, four punts, three picks and an end-of-half series.
Smith came out for the third quarter as well and came back with another touchdown drive, a 57-yarder on which he completed three passes, two more to Obomanu sandwiched around a beautiful diving grab by Winslow, to set up Bilal Powell's 2-yard TD run and a 14-10 lead 6:08 into the third quarter.
The second defense stiffened after a Giants drive led by backup QB Curtis Painter, bringing on Brown for a 33-yard field goal to cut our lead to 14-13 with 2:03 left in the quarter.
Then Smith came out two more times, with the first offense against the Big Blue twos. Stephen Hill fumbled the ball away for Giveaway No. 4 on the first one. Then Smith, trying to scramble away from pressure in his end zone, stepped on the end line for a safety, giving the Giants a 15-14 lead
Finally, Sanchez, whom Ryan said would play in this game, took the field with 11:21 to play. Things didn't go the way he would've scripted them. Then Simms came in and the game went on.
No one thinks Simms has thrown his hat into the starting ring, but the local QB certainly can take a bow after replacing Sanchez and, first off, leading the Jets on a short drive to his 22-yard scoring strike to another Jersey guy, Spadola, after a Steve Weatherford shanked punt.
That gave us a 21-18 lead with 2:02 to go, but that left the door open for the Giants backups to drive the field, which they did, to set up the ex-Jets kicker Brown's 40-yard field goal to tie the score at 21 with 37 seconds left in regulation.
Thus ensued overtime — the Jets' first preseason OT game since they beat the Buccaneers at Tampa, Fla., in 1997, 15-9, and only the second ever in this rivalry, the first going to the Giants, 34-31, in 1985.
The Giants coughed up their first and only turnover, and it was huge — LB Danny Lansanah, who had an interception a week ago against the Jaguars, stuck his mitt into RB Da'Rel Scott's midsection and pried the ball loose, with Jaiquawn Jarrett recovering the fumble at the Giants 26. However, Nick Folk, after being iced on his first FG try by Giants HC Tom Coughlin, missed wide right from 39 yards out.
Then the Giants were stopped. Then Simms found Spadola again off a scramble, this one for a 70-yard catch-and-run to the Giants 20. That set up Billy Cundiff to come on for his star turn at the gamewinning FG try. And Cundiff hit from 32 yards out to end this very interesting MetLife Bowl with 8:04 left in regulation and at around 10:45 p.m. ET.
"It felt good," Simms said. "It was fun. It was really a good time, especially beating the Giants. It was special."