FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Three things in life are a certainty: Death, taxes and a quarterback controversy for the New York Jets.
Under first-year head coach Todd Bowles, the Jets might be 2-1 and off to their best start since 2011, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t whispers that Geno Smith should replace Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starting quarterback. Of course, there were other whispers during training camp that Fitzpatrick might be better than Smith, the team’s incumbent starter the past two years.
It was a Week 3 home loss to the Philadelphia Eagles that caused murmurs for Smith to start became louder, after Smith was active for the first time this season. It was a sucker punch from former teammate IK Enemkpali that sidelined Smith in August, causing him to miss preseason and the first two games. In his place, Fitzpatrick has been steady and calm.
Smith had seven more passing yards in his first three starts in 2014 than Fitzpatrick had in the first three games this season. But Smith had three touchdown passes and four interceptions in those games; Fitzpatrick has five touchdowns and four interceptions, three of which came last week in an uncharacteristically bad performance. His completion percentage, QBR and passer rating are also higher than Smith’s season numbers last season.
What Fitzpatrick brings to the table is an understanding of the offense. This is an offense he ran well with the Buffalo Bills under then-head coach Chan Gailey, who is now his offensive coordinator. The offense asks for quick, smart reads and good decisions down field.
Last week’s performance wasn’t inspiring, but there is no reason to doubt that the man with the Harvard degree on his wall and a 1580 score on his SAT still can’t keep fitting that bill. Fitzpatrick doesn’t have tremendous arm strength, but he is accurate with the ball and typically makes good reads.
Smith is undoubtedly the quarterback with the higher ceiling and more athleticism. Yet despite all the upside, he lacks refinement and is wildly erratic, being benched multiple times his rookie season and losing the starting job to Mike Vick at one point last season. Smith’s lows have been incredibly low, bad enough to cost his team games.
In Fitzpatrick’s worst game of this season last week against the Eagles, his 60.3 completion percentage is still better than eight of Smith’s games last year.
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All of which means that while Smith offers upside, it is likely fourth-round draft pick Bryce Petty is the future of this Jets organization and not Smith. At best over his first two years in the league, the Jets haven’t expected Smith to even manage games — just don’t lose them. Judging from what he has shown in 30 NFL games and his off the field antics, ranging from this Enemkpali incident to cursing at fans last year and even getting thrown off a plane, Smith hasn’t shown he can be the franchise.
And the message from Bowles in his first year with the team has been to show patience with Fitzpatrick, who has managed the offense well in the Jets’ two wins. With a defense that can be top five in the league, perhaps that is enough to begin thinking about the Jets as a decent team, just an offseason removed from a 4-12 record.
In two years, Smith has proven to be a frustrating quarterback prone to poor decision-making, perhaps none worse than what led to the fight that broke his jaw and cost him the start of the season. After two years, Jets fans want to return to Smith if Fitzpatrick has a second lackluster game this week.
But truthfully, it is time for the Jets to move on from Smith, even if Fitzpatrick is no more than just a stopgap.
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