FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Four years ago, the Patriots lost the second game of the season to the Jets and a rookie quarterback they were expected to devour -- Mark Sanchez. That season improbably ended with Sanchez leading the Jets to the first of two straight AFC title games, but after two non-playoff seasons, the Jets are starting over now with rookie QB Geno Smith.
The oddsmakers say he and the Jets have little chance of leaving Gillette Stadium tomorrow night with a victory over New England, but after watching video of Smith leading the Jets to a last-second win over Tampa Bay in his debut, the Pats clearly respect him.
Kyle Arrington, a reserve cornerback out of Hofstra, had a one-word response when asked to describe Smith: "Poise. He doesn't play like a rookie. They do multiple formations -- run Wildcat, spread the ball, run empty [backfield] -- and they're effective doing it."
Just as the Jets did with Sanchez, they are asking Smith to limit turnovers and manage the game. But where Sanchez could rely on one of the NFL's best rushing attacks, these Jets pose different problems with new offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg's West Coast offense and Smith's threat to run.
"It's different from what we've seen in previous times we've played them," Arrington said. "It's like starting from scratch."
Pats safety Devin McCourty, who played at Rutgers, said the Jets haven't restricted Smith as much as expected. "They're asking him to go out there and play football, and that's what he's doing," McCourty said. "We can't approach this game thinking we're playing a team that's worried about their rookie quarterback and is trying to scale things down."
In their 18-17 win over Tampa Bay, Smith led the Jets with 47 yards rushing thanks to his scrambling style. Arrington said confusion had something to do with it, but so did instinct.
"Some guys scramble to buy more time," Arrington said. "He's scrambling to get the first down and gain yards. He's definitely one of those guys we've got to try and set the edge, keep him in the pocket. It's a lot easier said than done."
McCourty said Smith still did a good job of "keeping his eyes downfield," looking to pass. He relied heavily on tight end Kellen Winslow, who caught seven passes for 79 yards, but McCourty said: "He made the right read. Kellen Winslow got open, and he got the ball to him. He wasn't trying to force things to guys that were covered."
It now seems long ago that Sanchez won four road playoff games, including one against the Patriots in the divisional round of the 2010 playoffs at Gillette Stadium. Even before Sanchez suffered a shoulder injury that put him on the shelf, Arrington suggested the writing was on the wall when the Jets drafted Smith in the second round.
"I'm sure they didn't want to invest that much and not put him on the field," Arrington said. "And he's an extremely great talent, as well. It should be a good matchup for us."