Saturday night was supposed to be about Geno Smith. The rookie second-round pick was going to make his first NFL start, and if all went well, he could be on his way to the Jets starting quarterback job. The narrative changed four minutes into the fourth quarter when Smith, who finished the night 16-of-30 for 199 yards, with 1 TD, 3 INTs and a safety (we'll get to that in a moment), gave way to Mark Sanchez.
You might be wondering why Sanchez would play the fourth quarter of a preseason game behind a bunch of backup offensive linemen. You're not alone.
"That was my decision," Jets coach Rex Ryan said. "It was the coaches' decision all the way. You're talking about competing, the whole week you're taking about winning games and competing and that was my decision."
Now, ironically, Smith could have a clear path to the starting job because of Ryan's interest in fostering that competition.
On Sanchez's first play from scrimmage, he took a sack. The drive ended a few plays later with a botched snap. Yes, we've seen this movie, except now there's an alternate ending. Because a series later, Sanchez was drilled by Giants defensive lineman Marvin Austin. Sanchez left the game with a shoulder injury that not only ended his evening, but perhaps it's the beginning of the end of Sanchez's career in New York.
Rex Ryan should be fired tonight for signing off on one of the dumbest decisions I've ever seen. #nyj— Manish Mehta (@MMehtaNYDN) August 25, 2013
Ryan was asked after the game why he sent Sanchez out with the second team and he again invoked the need for competition.
"We're there to win," he said. "We had our starting offense out there for three quarters -- we're trying to win the game, that's what we wanted to do. … We're trying to compete. Everybody's out there and injuries are part of the game. … We'll see the severity of Mark's injuries. Obviously it didn't work out the way we wanted it to, but we're here to compete."
Duly noted, Rex, except there's a realistic possibility that the Jets go into the regular season with an overmatched rookie quarterback whose evening started with a three-and-out -- a ball batted at the line of scrimmage, followed by a short-hop to an open receiver, and then a 9-yard completion on third-and-10 -- and ended with the a safety.
Ah, yes, that safety.
Forty-seven minutes and 30 seconds. That's how long we were into Smith's tenure before he had his "buttfumble" moment.
Early in the fourth quarter with the Jets leading 14-13 and facing a second-and-14 from their own 1-yard line, Smith dropped back to pass, rolled right … and ran right out the back of the end zone. This wasn't some savvy move by a rookie quarterback willing to give up two points to change field position. This was a rookie quarterback who was distracted by the Giants pass rush and lost track of where he was on the field.
The last quarterback to do this? Dan Orlovsky, then with the 2008 Lions, an outfit that would ultimately go 0-16.
Perhaps this is a harbinger of things to come for the 2013 Jets, a team with a lame-duck coach, a manufactured quarterback controversy, and no clear playmakers to aid whomever eventually ends up under center.
There was some speculation that this was Smith's job to lose despite the fact that just a week ago Ryan proclaimed that Smith had a "brutal" practice. But the embattled Jets coach told reporters Saturday that no decisions have been made.
"Like we said from Day 1, whenever we think the appropriate time is and we'll make that call," Ryan said. … "Obviously, we talked about the competition as something that I thought was important. If it wasn't important then I wouldn't have put [Sanchez] in there. I would not have put Mark in if it wasn't important."
And did Ryan have reservations about having Sanchez take the field?
"After the injury you always have reservations," he said, "but we're competing."
But here's the thing: This isn't Ryan's team. That distinction now belongs to new general managers John Idzik, who took the gig earlier this year even though one of the stipulations was that he couldn't fire Ryan in 2013. Put another way, barring a miracle that includes a trip to the playoffs, Ryan will be out of work come January.
For now, though, Smith could very well win the job by default. He'll get every opportunity to be "the guy" because a) Sanchez has failed in that capacity for 24 consecutive months, b) Idzik drafted Smith and the rebuilding process effectively begins now, and most importantly, c) Sanchez currently has one working limb.
And a) is important to remember because for all the arm-waving fans and media (us included) are doing about Sanchez's injury, and what it means for the Jets, he was still one of the NFL's worst quarterbacks a season ago. It's important to keep some perspective.
That said, the only way this gets more absurd is if the Jets play the Benny Hill theme song every time the offense takes the field.