Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
ATLANTA - It is far too soon to say whether Geno Smith is the man to someday lead the Jets to a second Super Bowl. But it is not too soon to say this: The guy seems to have the makeup for the task.
That was evident on the field late Monday night, when he ignored a deafening crowd and placidly took apart the Falcons in eight plays and 55 yards in 1:54 to set up the winning field goal during a 30-28 Jets win.
And it was evident again as he explained it all later in a loud corridor at the Georgia Dome, verbally shrugging off what he had done and barely audible over the sound of equipment being loaded on to a truck.
"It doesn't do much for me," he said. "My confidence is always high. It's just good to get a victory."
Those words might read as cocky, perhaps even clueless. But when you actually hear Smith speak when he says stuff like that, he is so matter-of-fact, it comes off only as genuine.
Smith has a long way to go before accomplishing as much as his predecessor, Mark Sanchez, has in the NFL, including back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances. And let's recall that until his game went south, Sanchez mostly was regarded as a likable, praiseworthy figure around here.
Still, there already are signs Smith is a thicker-skinned, more resilient personality than Sanchez, one who seems well suited to the spotlight of a big job in a big city.
When I asked him last week how he is dealing with off-field elements of his role, including fans and journalists, he said: "It doesn't really bother me much. I know it comes with the territory, so I just do as I'm told. I love it. I appreciate it. I look forward to it every single day."
Again: The cool part was he sounded as if he meant it.
Adding to the drama of Monday night's tour de force was that it followed a tour de farce against the Titans during which Smith threw two interceptions and had two awful fumbles.
There was nothing of the sort against the Falcons. Smith was a model of efficiency, passing only 20 times but completing 16 for 199 yards, three touchdowns, a 147.7 passer rating and another late scoring rally.
It was the best performance of his career, and the best in 10 tries by a metropolitan-area NFL quarterback this season. It is not a stretch to say that if Smith goes on to bigger and better things, Oct. 7, 2013, will be recalled as his prime-time, national-TV, coming-out party.
His two finest moments among many Monday: a 1-yard scoring pass to Kellen Winslow on which he rolled to his right and deftly floated the ball over the defenders, and later when he checked out of a pass to a third-down run by Bilal Powell that set up Nick Folk's clincher.
"It takes [guts], bottom line," guard Willie Colon said of the latter. "He had no problem with owning his mistakes but at the same time taking command. Good for the kid."
Smith didn't sound or act much different after the loss to Tennessee or the shocker over the Falcons, which is an excellent sign, because as Sanchez and Eli Manning and everyone else who has played the position know -- stuff happens.
Consider that Tuesday, Newsday published results of an online (and unscientific) reader poll -- taken before the Falcons game -- asking who should start for the Jets. Smith edged Matt Simms, 49 to 41 percent, with the other 10 for Brady Quinn.
But Smith might be just the guy to handle it.