Since the New York Jets are eliminated from the playoffs, for me, Sunday’s game versus the Cleveland Browns was all about evaluating Geno Smith. His challenge was to prove to himself, coaches, teammates, and I guess the fans too, that he deserves to resume his role as starting quarterback for this team next season. Since it’s so late in the season, and this question still remains, we should already have our answer. However, if Geno ends the season with a strong campaign, he will leave a positive lasting impression as the organization evaluates talent for next season’s team.
Before Sunday’s game, reports indicated that Rex Ryan addressed the team and delivered an emotional plea to the team to play their hearts out on his behalf. Ryan believes he coached his final home game as the New York Jets head coach and will be fired at season’s end. Ryan asked every player to bring it, and boy did they. Not only did Smith receive the message and respond with what was arguably his strongest game of the season, but fellow rookie Dee Milliner, midseason pick up David Nelson, and running backs Chris Ivory and Bilal Powell, played lights out.
Led by Smith’s 262 yards, 3 touchdowns, and 0 interceptions, the Jets were uncontainable. While his all around game was impressive, I was most pleased by Smith’s decision making, something that’s been questionable throughout the season. When Smith was pressured, or recognized his receivers were covered by the Browns, Smith didn’t force throws that weren’t there. Instead, he either used his legs, converting for a couple of first downs, third downs, and even a fourth quarter touchdown. Or, he elected to throw it away. While Smith has shown he can handle a little read option, or a deep pass play, he’s consistently shown poor judgement when it comes to throwing into double and sometimes even triple coverage. However, yesterday, it was as if he finally got it. He made smart decisions with the ball and was often rewarded for it. Since Jeremy Kerley’s (70 yards) return, he’s been Smith’s go to receiver, but yesterday, David Nelson was his top playmaker, finishing with two touchdowns. The offensive line also deserves credit for Smith’s progress. Because of their blocking, Smith was granted solid protection, as evidenced by the Browns inability to sack Smith once, and the luxury of time.
The Jets’ running game was also unstoppable. The one-two punch of Chris Ivory (109 yards) and Bilal Powell (54 yards) rushed for 163 yards, and dominated the day. Ivory’s power and physical running style coupled with Powell’s breakaway speed posed a ton of problems for the Browns’ rushing defense.
However, as well as Smith played yesterday, the bigger story was rookie cornerback Dee Milliner. Like Smith, he’s had his fair amount of struggles and criticism this season. The first round draft pick was looked upon to fill Darelle Revis’s shoes. No easy feat, especially for a rookie. Milliner failed to rise to the occasion and was benched on and off throughout the season, but Ryan continued to call his number. And yesterday, with two games to play, Milliner finally made Ryan look good. Despite getting beat deep on a 24-yard catch by Josh Gordon, Milliner’s coverage was fantastic otherwise. Milliner was credited with breaking up five passes, one fewer than he had recorded all season. He also recorded his first interception of the season. Hopefully, he can cap off the season with another strong game next week.
Minus a few botched trick plays, the Jets played well. And it kinda makes you wonder where this team was all season long. Nevermind that it was the Browns, a team that might actually be worse off than the Jets. It really was something to watch another team’s frustrations (drops) play out in front of me, because it looked all too familiar. But hey, the Jets were gifted with a winnable game and took advantage of it.
There’s just one more game to play. The Jets are playing for pride, an 8-8 record, and the opportunity to end the Miami Dolphins playoff hopes. Let’s hope they get it done.