Neil Best first worked at Newsday in 1982, then returned in 1985. His SportsWatch column debuted on Sept.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. - Someday, Geno Smith and Jets fans might have a good laugh about it.
Remember that time when young, work-in-progress Geno tried that behind-the-back pass to himself in Nashville but instead handed the ball to a defensive lineman in the end zone?
Hard to believe he used to be that reckless and clueless!
But someday was not Sunday, an afternoon in which the Jets lost to the Titans, 38-13, and their rookie quarterback endured the worst outing of his nascent pro career.
The lowlight was the bizarre misplay that became a touchdown for Tennessee's Karl Klug and a 2013 version of the Butt Fumble, prompting the same question about Smith that sunk Mark Sanchez before him:
Can this guy play?
The answer remains many weeks or perhaps years off, and expecting answers this soon is unfair to a second-round draft pick who has been a starter for a month and has had some promising moments.
But it is fair to say a debacle of this scale is a concern. Rex Ryan did not deny that, simultaneously making it clear that Smith was only one of many Jets who failed but that his performance was not acceptable.
The coach said he plans to start Smith in Atlanta next Monday but indicated that Quarterbacking 101 is growing old fast.
"How many times are we going to make that excuse?'' Ryan said when asked about Smith's growing pains. "One of these days, we are going to have to learn from them, and it better be soon.''
Smith was responsible for all four Jets turnovers -- two interceptions, two fumbles. To his credit, he continued to do and say the right things off the field that he did not do on it, going to teammates individually and promising to be better, then promising the same to fans through the media.
"I guess it's a part of being a rookie, but I don't look at it that way,'' he said. "This is pro football, and every man has to man up. That's what I'm trying to go out there and do. I'll get better from this one. I'm one of those guys who can put it in my memory bank and put it behind me and find a way to get better. That's what it's all about.''
Smith talked about forcing the ball on his first interception, which led to the Titans' first touchdown, and about his carelessness on his first fumble, which led to the Titans' second touchdown.
On the latter, he allowed Zach Brown to strip him by holding the ball out for all to see.
"I have to tuck the ball away,'' he said. "I was just reckless with the ball. That's not what we preach around here. That's not what I'm being coached to do. When I break the pocket, I have to tuck the ball immediately for that very reason, guys who are in pursuit, guys who I may not see.''
Smith's second interception set up another Titans score, but the coup de grace came early in the fourth. Smith was under heavy pressure from Klug just outside the end zone when he attempted to transfer the ball from his right hand to his left . . . behind his back. He lost it, and Klug grabbed it.
"It's just reaction,'' he said. "I was trying to tuck the ball and the guy grabbed my arm when my arm was behind my back. It was one of those tough situations where my only reaction was to try to swing my left hand around before I fumbled it, but I just didn't get it around.''
Or something like that. Who knows? Klug is 6-3, 278 pounds, so most of us likely would have done something equally foolish under similar circumstances.
Of course, most of us are not aspiring NFL starters. If Smith wants to remain one, he has to figure things out. He deserves some time, but as Ryan said, "It better be soon.''