Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
BALTIMORE - Like all coaches of flailing quarterbacks -- especially ones with no significant NFL resume -- Rex Ryan knows his postgame comments will be parsed for any hint of what he might be thinking.
Sure enough, no fan or reporter listening Sunday could help noticing that unlike the Sunday before, Ryan did not confirm that Geno Smith will start when the Jets play next. He also did not say Smith won't.
"I'm not going to talk about one individual," Ryan said after a 19-3 loss to the Ravens in which Smith continued a run of poor play, now one touchdown pass and 10 interceptions in six games. "That's not where I'm at tonight."
That left the rest of us to assess where we are at as observers and . . . well, no wonder Ryan clammed up. This is a tough one.
The Jets are in a no-win situation of their own making, with a young veteran in Mark Sanchez who long ago was lost to an unnecessary preseason injury, an undrafted backup in Matt Simms who is known more for his last name than his long-term pro prospects, and 35-year-old David Garrard, who hasn't played since 2010.
It is not clear whether Ryan considers Simms a serious alternative, but Smith has been so bad lately that callers to sports talk radio have every right to nominate him to start against the Dolphins next Sunday.
But because Newsday actually pays me to have a vote -- even though it counts as much as yours does -- it says here that Smith should get at least one more shot, particularly with winnable home games against Miami and Oakland ahead and the postseason still in play.
Remember, as if you could forget after all this repetition: The season largely is about assessing what the Jets have in their young players.
For a while, all seemed well. But since that rousing victory in Atlanta on Oct. 7, Smith has struggled so badly that it would take a stunning late-season turnaround for the Jets to enter the offseason thinking they are set at the position.
If that doesn't happen, so be it. It looks to be a strong quarterback draft in 2014. But there are only two reasons to bench Smith at this stage.
The first is if the Jets consider Simms, who played sparingly at the major college level and went undrafted last year, is a potential quarterback of the future and want to see what he can do. That is a long shot.
The second is that Smith would benefit from a timeout of sorts to collect his thoughts -- a strategy that has worked for some future stars in the past.
Absent that, why not keep trotting him out and hope for the best no matter how bleak things seem right now?
As for Smith, he was his usual stoic self after a 9-for-22, 127-yard, two-interception debacle. He dismissed the notions that he was sabotaged by dropped passes, poor protection or cold, windy conditions.
"You can say a number of things; I just haven't played well," he said.
Is he concerned about the inevitable calls for him to be replaced? "No," he said. "Two losses and that's this league, man, everyone wants to put a new quarterback in. I understand that. But I'm not worried about anything other than trying to get better as a player.
"I'm not going to sit here and say my job is 100 percent secure, because every single guy in this locker room has to prove himself daily and that's the way we work around here."
Does he still think he is the best man to lead the Jets to the playoffs? "I know I am," he said.
So far, teammates are sticking by him -- publicly, at least. When asked about his confidence in Smith, Santonio Holmes said, "My confidence level in Geno? That he's going to continue being our starter and he's going to get better each and every week and he's going to lead us where we need to be, sooner or later."
Soon it will be too late.