MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. - Getting benched may have been the best thing for Geno Smith. It also was the hardest thing for the rookie.
"It's the first time that's ever happened to me in my life," the quarterback said Sunday after the Jets' 20-7 win over the Dolphins. "Honestly, I didn't like it. I know that it's part of the decision-making and coaching, so I just had to dig deep."
Smith got a chance to get back at the team he bottomed out against four weeks earlier; he had been benched at halftime of a 23-3 loss to the Dolphins on Dec. 1 at MetLife Stadium. It was the culmination of an abysmal series of losses, as Smith had zero touchdown passes and six interceptions in consecutive losses to the Bills, Ravens and Dolphins.
But he has been a far more efficient quarterback since then. In his final four games, Smith threw four touchdown passes and only two interceptions. He added three rushing TDs, including one Sunday.
Smith benefited from a more liberal use of the no-huddle offense, something that offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg decided would help his young quarterback break out of his slump.
"I had to do a lot of soul-searching," Smith said. "But I don't want to make it about me. The fact is we came out as a team and we got back. We played extremely well in December, and it was great that we had zero turnovers two straight games, showing that we can take care of the ball and that I can take care of the ball."
Sunday's game was just a few miles away from Miramar High School, where Smith was a star passer on his way to four years as West Virginia's quarterback. He was the Jets' second-round pick in April.
"I was the same," he said of playing in front of several relatives who attended Sunday's game. "I've been playing for my entire life, so it's no different."
Smith was particularly good at keeping long drives alive Sunday. He led the Jets on a 10-play, 71-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter, and on their next possession, he finished off an 11-play, 80-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run on a draw play. Smith took the snap from center Nick Mangold, faked as if he would drop back, then ran slightly to his right before getting into the end zone. He was given an assist by running back Bilal Powell, who purposely hit Smith from behind to propel him into the end zone.
"That was a huge shot, really smart on [Powell's] behalf," Smith said. "He gave me that extra push."
Smith goes into the offseason confident that he showed genuine improvement in the course of the season, but he knows there are no assurances that he'll remain the team's No. 1 quarterback. It's possible the Jets will draft another quarterback in 2014.
"Those things are out of my control," Smith said. "The only thing I can do is come back to camp and be ready to go."