Geno Smith 1, EJ Manuel 0.
Even with two interceptions, Smith outplayed his rookie counterpart Sunday, passing for 331 yards and two touchdowns to lead the Jets to a 27-20 win over the Bills at MetLife Stadium.
The day's biggest play came courtesy of some veteran savvy. Smith connected with his No. 1 receiver, Santonio Holmes, on a 69-yard touchdown pass with 9:23 to play that broke a 20-20 tie.
Holmes relishes big-game moments and the spotlight. And after the Bills' offense came alive in the final quarter, it suddenly became Tone Time.
"Our job is to go out and make plays, and Geno gave me an opportunity to make the play,'' said Holmes, who was targeted 10 times, caught five passes and finished with a career-high 154 receiving yards. His 69-yard score was the longest touchdown by the Jets in the fourth quarter or overtime since 1996, according to ESPN Stats and Information.
"I love the fact that he threw it to Holmes,'' coach Rex Ryan said of Smith, whom the Jets drafted 39th overall in April. " . . . 154 yards receiving is pretty impressive. The kid hung in there. We get the protection and he makes the big throws.''
Stephen Hill also had a big day, making three catches for 108 yards, including a 51-yard touchdown that put the Jets up 14-6 in the second quarter.
"He did a great job,'' Hill said of Smith, who gave the Jets a 7-0 lead in the first quarter with an 8-yard quarterback draw. "I felt like he took over the game when it was time to and he made plays. That's what we [were] looking for.''
Smith said of wanting the ball in his hands in the big moments, "Always. With the game on the line, the ball in your hands, that's the moment you live for. That's the moment you dream of as a kid.''
In the absence of running back Chris Ivory, who was injured in the first quarter, Bilal Powell rushed for a career-high 149 yards on 27 carries. The Jets finished with 513 total yards, the most ever under Ryan.
"Well, don't give me credit,'' he said. " . . . That's clearly our offensive staff.''
But give all the credit to Ryan and defensive coordinator Dennis Thurman for making Manuel -- the first quarterback taken in the April draft (16th overall) -- look every bit the rookie. Manuel, who was sacked eight times, struggled against Ryan's play-calling and his stout defensive front for much of the game.
"When they're bringing eight people at you, it is definitely tough,'' said Manuel (19-for-42, 243 yards and a touchdown). "But you still have to relax.''
He did just that and eventually found the end zone in the fourth quarter -- thanks to the self-destruction of Kyle Wilson. The fourth-year cornerback, who started in place of struggling rookie Dee Milliner, was flagged four times on one series for holding, illegal contact and unsportsmanlike conduct (twice).
For the second straight week, Ryan benched one of his cornerbacks. Darrin Walls replaced Wilson, whose one-man sideshow earned the Bills (1-2) multiple first downs and quickly resulted in a momentum swing.
On third-and-6, Manuel found a wide-open Scott Chandler for a 33-yard touchdown pass with 10:39 left. That made it 20-18, and the Bills easily added the tying two-point conversion as Manuel connected with Stevie Johnson.
But the score was tied only momentarily. After a pass-interference call on the Bills, Smith launched his 69-yard touchdown pass to Holmes and Nick Folk's PAT made it 27-20.
Wilson's meltdown -- and subsequent benching -- was the most egregious, but the Jets (2-1) racked up a franchise-record 20 penalties that cost them 168 yards. They became the first team to win with that many infractions since the 1951 Browns (22 against the Bears), according to Elias Sports Bureau.
But in the end, Smith won the battle of the rookie quarterbacks in a game that pitted Ryan -- the defensive guru -- against his former defensive coordinator, Mike Pettine, who joined the Bills after the 2012 season.
Said Jets defensive end Leger Douzable, "We want people to keep doubting us. We're just going to keep proving them wrong. I can't speak for offense, but on defense, nobody gave us a chance. Nobody thought we could be a top five defense, and we're going to prove people wrong."