The New York Jets and Tampa Bay Buccaneers played a physical, and at times sloppy, football game on Sunday, but it turned out to be a thrilling contest. The Bucs took the lead with 34 seconds left in the game, but rookie quarterback Geno Smith led the Jets down the field and into field goal range (albeit with major help from a very dumb Tampa Bay penalty) with just moments on the clock. Nick Folk did the rest, nailing a 48 yard field goal for the 18-17 win.
In his first NFL game, Smith was 24 of 38 for 256 yards, 1 TD and 1 INT. He was also very effective as a runner, scrambling for 47 yards on 6 carries. For that performance, Smith gets the game ball from this contest. He was not the best player on the field, but he found a way to lead his team to a win.
It should be noted that the New York defensive front seven was outstanding to a man, and the Jets would have had no chance without the performance of their defensive line and linebackers. Other standout players included Kellen Winslow, Jeremy Kerley and Dawan Landry, and all were worthy candidates for the game ball.
Quarterbacks are the most important players on the field however, and Smith had a very solid debut. He looked like the rookie he is at times, but overall he made good decisions and put his receivers in position to succeed. Smith was solid on third downs, which is a key measuring stick for young quarterbacks. He was patient enough to go through his reads, and he often made the smart choice to pull it down and pick up the first down himself.
Smith managed to avoid locking onto receivers and forcing the ball, and he did a very good job of spreading the ball around. The interception he threw was at least 50% Chris Ivory’s fault, as there was clearly a major miscommunication between the QB and his running back. The Jets needed to Smith to be smart and efficient with the ball, and that’s exactly what he was.
Rookie quarterbacks often struggle when they enter the league, as they are not used to pro-style offenses or the speed of the NFL game. However, Smith did well to play within himself, and the coaches did a good job of keeping him comfortable in the pocket and playing to his strengths. This performance was exactly what the Jets hoped to see from their new signal caller.
This performance by no means establishes Smith as the next Andrew Luck or Robert Griffin III, but it was a very encouraging start from a player that most observers (myself included) thought was nowhere near ready. Smith made all of us eat our words with his play on Sunday, and if continues to build on this, he could become the long term solution for the Jets at quarterback.