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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Geno Smith builds a little confidence

Geno Smith walks off the field after defeating

Geno Smith walks off the field after defeating the Oakland Raiders at MetLife Stadium. (Dec. 8, 2013) Photo Credit: Jim McIsaac

One by one, they went over to him and looked him in the eye, imploring him to get beyond what had just happened. Coaches and players, on offense and defense, all with messages of support: Move on from the mistake. Maintain your composure. You can do this.

Muhammad Wilkerson. Damon Harrison. Matt Simms. David Garrard. Marty Mornhinweg. Rex Ryan. They made it clear to Geno Smith after this latest interception that they still believe in him, even when the quarterback himself was beginning to have doubts.

Midway through the first quarter of Sunday's game against the Raiders, Smith trudged off the field after his pass intended for Jeremy Kerley was picked off by linebacker Kevin Burnett, Smith's 12th interception in the last eight games. He couldn't help but question whether he'd ever get past these mistakes.

"I can't sit here and say I'm not human, because it's difficult," Smith said afterward. "When you have those struggles and you come out and you have an interception right there at the 50-yard line, you kind of start to think about those things and think about all those mistakes."

But those brief yet meaningful messages of support from his teammates and coaches lifted him out of the momentary funk.

"They told me, 'Stay with it. Stay confident. Don't worry about it,' " Smith said.

It helped that the defense stopped the Raiders at the Jets' 34 and forced them to settle for a 52-yard field-goal try that Sebastian Janikowski missed.

Smith shook off the early mistake and put together his best individual performance in more than a month, throwing for 219 yards and a touchdown and running five times for 50 yards and another score. The touchdown pass -- a 25-yarder to Kerley on his first drive after the interception -- was Smith's first since a Week 7 win over the Patriots.

At last, a sigh of relief for a quarterback who hadn't experienced much of anything good for quite a while. Smith helped the Jets end their losing streak at three games and keep their flickering hopes alive in the chase for the AFC's second wild-card spot.

Even though it's still a long shot that the Jets will make it to January, Smith at least can take comfort in experiencing a moment of progress in what has been a challenging rookie season.

It helped that he had a full arsenal of skill-position players at his disposal. Receivers Santonio Holmes and Kerley were back near full strength and tight end Kellen Winslow Jr. was more of a factor.

There was even a chest-thumping exclamation point from Smith near the end on his longest NFL run, a 32-yard scramble. Rather than run out of bounds, he lowered his shoulder -- his passing shoulder -- and rammed into safety Brandian Ross before going down.

His coaches immediately told him never to do that again, but Smith's sly postgame smile indicated he was glad he could at least make his point before agreeing. "I think part of it was me trying to send a message to my teammates, to tell everyone that I'm their quarterback. I'm a tough guy. I'm going to stay in [bounds]," he said.

He knows never to do it again. He also knows he'll never take back that message.

Fitting, too, that it came at the end of a run.

We had suggested this past week that Smith needed to start using his legs to make some plays, to take advantage of his speed and athleticism. During the three-game losing streak, Smith rushed only five times for 8 yards and no touchdowns. On Sunday, he averaged 10 yards a carry on his five rushes and scored on an 8-yard run, after which he gestured emotionally to the crowd.

As it turned out, running the ball was an important strategic adjustment on Smith's part, and not an easy one at that. After all, he has never viewed himself as a running quarterback, and it's still not second nature to take off if the protection breaks down or his receivers aren't getting open. But he knows now it's a valuable tool at his disposal.

"The difference was to eliminate that indecision in my game," he said. "Sometimes I second-guess myself, and that always hurts, especially for a quarterback. You just have to play with a feel and know what you're doing. I tried to practice this week by getting the ball out of my hand quick, seeing the guys get open, and if not, extend the plays using my legs. Just playing smart, not being indecisive."

The move paid off, albeit against a weak Raiders team. It won't be that easy on Sunday at Carolina, but at least Smith can take comfort in the fact that he raised his level of play at a time when he -- and his team -- needed it most.

New York Sports