DETROIT -- Geno Smith walked with a slight limp to the lectern, wearing a sock over his injured right ankle and black flip-flops. The rookie quarterback insisted his injury was nothing serious, and that had Friday night's game against the Lions been a regular-season matchup, he'd have trotted back on the field for more.
But despite his seemingly lackluster outing, Smith gave himself rave reviews for his first NFL performance: 6-for-7 for 47 yards and no touchdowns in the Jets' 26-17 loss at Ford Field in a preseason opener.
"I think I played exceptionally well," said the ever-confident rookie, who was forced to leave the game with 13:29 remaining in the third quarter after he rolled the ankle trying to scramble on the turf.
It's unclear if Rex Ryan felt the same way about Smith's performance. The Jets' coach said he didn't see much of the rookie -- who is battling veteran Mark Sanchez for the starting job -- because he was focused on his defense.
"I had my own issues on the other side of the ball, so I never really focused a whole lot when he was in there," Ryan said. "We'll see it on tape. You guys probably saw more plays than I did."
Sanchez had Jets fans hanging on the edge of their seats -- cursing his poor field vision one minute and cheering his on-target passes the next. After spotting the Lions an early seven points on a first-quarter pick-6, Sanchez rebounded to finish 10-for-13 for 125 yards and a touchdown.
"It's not the way you want to start," said the fifth-year quarterback, who was intercepted on his third pass of the game. " . . . Other than that one crappy play, it wasn't too bad."
Both quarterbacks set out to gain an edge in their training camp competition, but Sanchez's shaky start and Smith's injury only muddied the waters. Though Sanchez rebounded in a big way, his propensity for turning over the football remains an issue.
After months of declaring himself fit to lead the Jets' offense back to the postseason, he reverted to his bumbling ways just three minutes and 42 seconds into the game. With the ball near his own end zone to start the game, he inexplicably fired a screen pass to no one in particular, and the mistake was costly. Only one Jet was in the vicinity when he threw the ball: D'Brickashaw Ferguson, their 6-6, 310-pound left tackle. Rookie defensive end Ziggy Ansah grabbed the pass and scampered 14 yards into the end zone to put the Lions up 7-0.
Said Ryan, "I never saw it. I just caught the tail end of it when the kid was running for a TD. Obviously, we can't have that.''
During the past two seasons, Sanchez has committed a league-leading 52 turnovers. But the maddening truth about him is that he can't be counted out. And in typical fashion, he pulled the Jets out of his self-created hole. Sanchez completed 24-yard passes to Kellen Winslow Jr. and Jeremy Kerley before hitting Jeff Cumberland for a 26-yard touchdown that pulled the Jets within 10-7 with 46 seconds left in the first quarter.
"Trust me, I've been through a lot worse than that," Sanchez said on the CBS broadcast.
Smith's evening was far less productive. Save for a 19-yard pass to Clyde Gates, the rookie delivered mostly short passes before leaving.
Smith limped off the field but told the trainers he wants to practice Monday and expects to play in the Jets' next preseason game next Saturday against Jacksonville. His only complaint was ankle soreness. As for whether the injury will set him back in the quarterback race, Smith said he wasn't sure. "I'm going to take it day by day," he said, adding that X-rays were negative. "I fully expect to heal up quickly."
In place of Smith, Greg McElroy threw an 11-yard touchdown pass on the run to Zach Rogers to make it 20-14 in the third and Nick Folk kicked a 51-yard field goal to make it 23-17.
Notes & quotes: Running back John Griffin suffered what Ryan called "a major" lower leg fracture. Offensive lineman Dennis Landolt left the game late in the third because of a right knee injury. Linebacker Garrett McIntyre also suffered a knee injury.