So far so good for Geno Smith
Bob GlauberBob Glauber
Glauber has been Newsday's national football columnist since 1992. He
Web linksGame stats: Jets 18, Bucs 17
The text from the longtime, long-suffering fan arrived about an hour before Geno Smith took the field for his first NFL game, with the rookie quarterback carrying the hopes of so many whose souls have been crushed so often in four-plus decades of frustration and misery.
"Let's see if Geno Smith actually has some skills," the message said, "or if he's the next Browning Nagle."
The scars run deep, don't they? But that's the way it is for generations of Jets fans who have been teased by the anticipation of greatness, only to be disillusioned.
It was 21 years ago -- longer than many Jets fans have been alive -- when Nagle made his first start and raised the expectation level with a scintillating individual performance against the Falcons. He threw for 366 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in a 20-17 loss.
But it unraveled quickly, with Nagle eventually turning into yet another punch line for futility and the Jets continuing a mind-numbing downward spiral.
Nagle went 3-10 as a starter that year, the Jets finished 4-12 and Nagle earned the nickname "Nuke LaLoosh" -- a million-dollar arm and a 10-cent brain -- after the pitcher from the movie "Bull Durham." Coach Bruce Coslet was so disgusted with Nagle that the Jets traded for Boomer Esiason the next year.
If you don't remember the ill-fated Nagle, surely the start of the Mark Sanchez run is a no less painful reminder of how things don't always work out. Even after a promising start.
Four years ago, Sanchez got a pep talk from Joe Namath before his debut against the Texans and had a dazzling performance in a 24-7 win. He threw for 272 yards and a touchdown and became the first rookie to go 3-0 after starting opening day.
Even Namath thought Sanchez had a chance to become the next Namath. And now? After producing a league-worst 52 turnovers in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, Sanchez might never start another game for the Jets.
Still recovering from a shoulder injury suffered in preseason and wearing a T-shirt and shorts, he watched Smith's debut and helped him decipher the Bucs' defensive strategy. But even when Sanchez gets better, it looks as if the only way he'll get back into the lineup is if Smith gets hurt.
Smith was functional, throwing for 256 yards and a touchdown. But there was a lost fumble at his own 5 that led to the Bucs' second TD, and he was intercepted on his next series.
But he did settle down and find a rhythm in the second half, showing good awareness of when to tuck the ball and run when nothing was open downfield. And he did have the presence of mind to run around right end in the final seconds, leaving enough time for one more play. Fortunately for the Jets, linebacker Lavonte David committed one of the dumbest penalties you'll ever see, shoving Smith after he went out of bounds. On the next play, Nick Folk won it with a 48-yard field goal with two seconds left.
"I thought Geno did a really nice job," coach Rex Ryan said. "Where he really helped us was when he ran. Those plays helped us win the game."
Smith low-keyed his performance. "It's not about me," he said. "It's about my teammates and this organization. I had some ups and downs. Every single thing has to improve. I've got lots of room to grow, and that's what I'm here for, to help improve this organization and improve as a player."
He has his priorities right, and you can't ask for a more level-headed player. But that alone won't guarantee success in this league. Only talent and a commitment to consistency will lead to long-term success.
As Jets fans have found out the hard way, the euphoria of early accomplishment often gives way to eventual failure. They can only hope that Smith is the one to break the cycle of disappointment.