FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Geno Smith has done lots of apologizing lately. For cursing at a fan. For poor performances. For missing a team meeting.
The New York Jets quarterback is in a rut, on and off the field. But he’s getting another chance to hold on to his starting job, and knows that if he doesn’t improve quickly, he could end up back on the sideline — maybe for good.
“Obviously, I’m disappointed in some of the uncharacteristic things that I have done,” Smith said after practice Oct. 8. “But I have apologized for those things, and now it’s about not letting those things occur again, and just remaining focused on football — staying grounded and remaining focused on football.”
Last week, Smith was fined $12,000 by the NFL for shouting an expletive at a heckler after the Jets’ 24-17 loss to the Detroit Lions at home.
He talked about making progress on the field, playing at a higher level. But then came the news that he missed a meeting — along with a teammate — the night before the Jets’ 31-0 drubbing at the hands of the San Diego Chargers.
Smith was present for the rest of the meetings, missing only what was a 10-minute session. The quarterback said he told his teammates he was sorry, and coach Rex Ryan didn’t consider benching him for the start of the game — saying the discipline would be taken care of in-house.
“Was this thing just an aberration?” Ryan said. “I believe it was.”
Some fans and media insisted it was a display of immaturity by Smith, not exactly becoming of a team leader. There were also criticisms of Ryan, saying he was perhaps too lenient by letting him start at San Diego.
“I learned that all of my actions definitely are being watched and I know that already, but I just have to remain the guy that I have always been,” Smith said. “Just continue to be humble. Don’t let outside distractions affect me, and they usually don’t. Unfortunately, I made a mistake and all I can do is rebound from it.”
Smith was eventually benched Oct. 5th in favor of Michael Vick, but that was only because the Jets’ offense was struggling in a big way — again. Immediately after the game, Ryan declared that Smith would start Oct. 12th against Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos.
Publicly, Ryan remains steadfast in his support of Smith, despite the six interceptions and two lost fumbles that have been part of the reason the offense has played poorly. The passing game is ranked last in the NFL, and Smith ranks at the bottom of nearly every major statistical category.
“I see things that maybe not everybody sees,” Ryan said. “I see where on his day off, he’s got seven receivers in here with him watching tape. I see those types of things. I believe that this young man is going to be fine.”
For some, it sounds an awful lot like how Ryan used to come to Mark Sanchez’s defense in previous seasons, confident the quarterback would rise past his problems on the field.
Sanchez is long gone, a backup in Philadelphia. And the guy he replaced in that spot with the Eagles — Vick — is now waiting for his chance with the Jets while being supportive as Smith tries to find his way through his second NFL season.
“Give the man some space,” he said half-kiddingly when he walked into the locker room and saw Smith at the middle of a large scrum of reporters and cameras. “We’ll find out if he has the ability to persevere,” Vick said later.
The Jets are counting on that, or they might be forced to turn to Vick, who struggled just as much as Smith against the Chargers. He finished 8-of-19 for 47 yards, compared to 4-of-12 for 27 yards by Smith.
“I learned a lesson last week: Always stay ready, always be prepared,” Vick said. “That left a bitter taste in my mouth, that I wasn’t able to go out and put points on the board or even help this team in any fashion.”
Smith is trying to do the same, and a solid performance could muffle the calls for his benching. Ryan suggested that Smith would benefit from running more than he has. After all, he has 91 yards on 25 carries, and his seven rushing touchdowns since the start of last season are the most of any NFL quarterback.
“In this league, sometimes guys are going to be covered and I have the ability to pick up a few yards running,” Smith said, “so that’s what I have to do to help this team and to help this offense.”
And, himself. “I just want to go out there and try to get a win for the fans and go out there and compete,” Smith said, “and give them something to be excited about.”
(DENNIS WASZAK Jr., AP Sports Writer)