Sorry, Mark Sanchez, but it's all about Geno Smith for Jets right now

In this Associated Press composite, Jets quarterbacks Geno In this Associated Press composite, Jets quarterbacks Geno Smith, left, and Mark Sanchez, right, look on during a game against the New England Patriots. (Sept. 12, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

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Neil Best Newsday columnist Neil Best

Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - So let's see if we have this straight: Mark Sanchez will be going under the knife any day now, or he is feeling much better, thank you, and still considers himself to be on the mend.

Or maybe somewhere in between. Or both.

Hey, Mark, nothing personal, but most Jets fans don't much care anymore.

Whether or not you are healthy enough to play in 2013, whether or not you believe you "won the competition'' in the pre-torn-labrum quarterback derby, this is Geno Smith's team and Geno Smith's time.

That is not to say, of course, that young Mr. Smith is a lock to lead the Jets into a bright future, as he demonstrated in an exasperating performance Thursday night in the Jets' 13-10 loss to the Patriots.

But this is the time for the Jets to see what they might have in Smith, not relearn what they don't have in Sanchez.

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After two regular-season games, the answer remains unclear, and likely will continue to for weeks to come.

For much of Thursday night, Smith looked poised and promising, making a number of impressive plays, missing on others because of the ineptitude of his receivers and generally avoiding Sanchez-ian mistakes.

Remember, Gillette Stadium has ruined many a rookie passer, including Sanchez, who threw four interceptions in a 31-14 loss here in 2009.

Then, suddenly, it all went wrong, with Smith throwing interceptions on three of the Jets' last four drives, all with the visitors trailing by only three points and two deep inside New England territory.

"We competed hard and put ourselves in a position to win it late,'' he said, "but with the costly mistakes that were completely on me, we didn't get it done, and I take full responsibility for that and I will get better from this.''

Smith finished an unsightly 15-for-35 for 214 yards and was sacked four times. His passer rating: 27.8.

It was a shame, given the stellar effort of the Jets' defense, which held Tom Brady and the Patriots to 232 yards of total offense. But the famously confident Smith appeared unshaken.

"I don't like to look at it as a learning experience,'' he said. "I think I'm ready for this. I know I'm ready for this.''

Coach Rex Ryan didn't excuse Smith's mistakes, but he did sharply criticize Smith's teammates for lack of support.

Asked whether the drops might have damaged Smith's spirit, Ryan said, "It mentally affected all of us. We have to hang on to the ball . . . Would it have changed the outcome? I don't know. But I would have liked to find out.''

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Smith patiently broke down each of his interceptions for reporters, the last of which bothered him most.

"The last one was a terrible mistake,'' he said. "I saw that guy [Aqib Talib] and felt I could force the ball and try to get a back-shoulder throw and he turned around. He's a wily vet.

"It hurt. I can't lie. It hurt. But it's only the beginning. I have to get better from it.''

The Jets had better hope so, because if he does not, it will be time for Plan B -- or is it Plan C? Or Z? -- come 2014.

But even if Sanchez continues to be listed -- comically -- as "day-to-day" and opts for rest and rehab to remain in the roster mix into late autumn, that should not alter the Jets' course.

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(Asked what he could tell reporters about Sanchez's recent visit to orthopedic surgeon James Andrews, Ryan said, "I can tell you I'm not going to say anything about it.'')

Smith already has shown he is worth an extended look. These things take time. In Eli Manning's fourth NFL start in 2004, he recorded a 0.0 passer rating against the Ravens.

Patience, Jets. What do you have to lose at this point but football games?

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