Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. - Rex Ryan and Geno Smith keep saying all the right things -- the coach refusing to blame the quarterback for the Jets' maddening ups and downs, the quarterback insisting on accepting his share.
But every week that goes by, such talk gets cheaper, and both men seem to be sensing it as young Mr. Smith's feel-good season continues to sour.
Since his breakout game in a road upset of the Falcons on Oct. 7, he has one touchdown pass and eight interceptions.
"I've got to do it," Smith said after Sunday's 37-14 flop against the Bills at Ralph Wilson Stadium in which he lost one fumble, threw three interceptions and had a passer rating of 10.1. "It is not about talking about it; it's not about standing here up at this [interview] podium saying, 'Hey, we have to be consistent and I've got to be consistent.' It's about doing it on the field."
Ryan, as usual, said it would be unfair to pin the loss on one man, adding that Joe Namath could not have succeeded under such porous pass protection.
But he also noted that Bills rookie EJ Manuel had a passer rating more than 110 points higher than Smith's, and Ryan briefly seemed to waver when asked who will start against the Ravens on Sunday.
"We'll look at everything as we go," he said. Hmm. "But again, I don't think it's fair to place it on one man. We have to have a hard look at what we're doing, but I'd say Geno is our starting quarterback against Baltimore."
The problem here is that Smith's struggles have complicated what mostly has been a positive Jets narrative in 2013.
Even as they continue to confound their fans by alternating wins and losses, their season to this point must be considered a success, and they still are a legitimate playoff contender.
Same goes for the ongoing referendum on Ryan, who has done a fine job, even if he did invite second-guessing by taking his players on a highly unusual night-before-a-game team outing Saturday night.
Smith, though, seems to have stagnated, and if he doesn't change course soon, the Jets will fall out of playoff contention.
"The way I can sum up this game for myself is awful," he said. "I know I can play better. I know this isn't who I am or what I want to be.
"I have to be mindful of taking care of the ball, like I always say. Just didn't get the job done today. That's pretty much as simple as I can put it."
Understanding and acknowledging a problem is the first step to fixing it, of course. But you and I understand the problem, too, and likely would turn the ball over even more often than Smith does. The idea is to be good enough to do something about it.
"I can't put my finger on what it's been," Smith said. "We've tried every single thing up until this point to try and negate those incidents. It's just one of those things that kind of comes with the territory.
"I hate to use the words 'growing pains,' but that's exactly what it is and I know the situation we are in with this team, that we can't have that. So I've got to clean that up. I've got to eliminate that."
Smith comes across as more self-assured, mature and sincere than did his predecessor, but his comments after these debacles are starting to sound depressingly similar to Mark Sanchez's postgame news conferences.
With the first anniversary of the Butt Fumble coming Friday, Smith hopes to put Sunday's loss behind him and write a better Thanksgiving script.
"I'm putting everything into getting better, every single thing I have in me to get better and to continue to lead this team," Smith said. "It's going to be crucial for us to come out and play well, and it starts with me."