FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - We've seen plenty of bizarre and unfortunate things with the Jets over the years -- no, make that decades -- but never something quite as bizarre and unfortunate as this.
Geno Smith's star-crossed career took a stunning turn yesterday, all because of a punch that broke his jaw and will keep the third-year quarterback out of the lineup as long as 10 weeks. And perhaps even longer, if Ryan Fitzpatrick plays well enough to keep the job.
A franchise that has largely been defined by epic moments of failure -- the "Butt Fumble," the "Mud Bowl" loss to the Dolphins, Mark Gastineau's late hit in a playoff game, Brett Favre's late-season meltdown and his cellphone indiscretions . . . The list goes on and on, and is now struck by an all-time blow.
In the time it took for Ikemefuna Enemkpali to deliver a shot to Smith's face in a dispute reportedly centered on money owed by Smith for a plane ticket, the Jets are in crisis mode once more. And Smith's career now hangs in the balance, not only because first-year coach Todd Bowles said there was no guarantee Smith would get his job back when he's healthy enough to return, but because it's one more unfortunate off-the-field incident added to his resume.
While it's unfair to conclude that Smith deserved to be hit, it is safe to say that he should not have allowed himself to be in this position in the first place. Like Bowles said, "It takes two to tango. One to throw a punch, but two to tango."
The consequences of Enemkpali's actions were immediate as the Jets released him. Smith's situation is far less certain. He is to undergo surgery and will be out of action for 6-10 weeks. When he returns, he may not get his job back.
"If the other guy's playing well, and the boat's going right, and there are no waves, and everything's going, and we're 4, 5, 6, 7-0? Yeah, you're not coming back to start," Bowles said.
Until now, Smith had been enjoying a mostly smooth run in the offseason and then the first 10 days of training camp. He went nine straight practices before throwing his first interception. There was a commanding presence in the huddle, and some solid chemistry with receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker.
Gone. At least for a while.
"Geno has put a lot of work in this offseason," said Fitzpatrick, who was acquired in an offseason trade with the Texans. "There's been a ton of improvement with him. I think it was just an unfortunate situation. There was a lot of disappointment on that end of it for him."
Nearly three years of an already difficult apprenticeship for Smith, and now it's on hold. And while there is still widespread support for Smith in the locker room, some players take pause nevertheless that Smith let himself get in this position in the first place.
"I hold both of them responsible," Darrelle Revis said.
If there is a sliver of hope for the hard-luck Jets, it's that the man taking Smith's place has proved to be at least functional as an NFL starter in previous years. And it is also worth pointing out that Fitzpatrick enjoyed the best years of his NFL career in Buffalo under coach Chan Gailey, now the Jets' offensive coordinator. A former Harvard quarterback who wasn't drafted until the seventh round, Fitzpatrick bided his time and got a shot with the Bills in 2009 and 2010 after an injury opened the door.
Their familiarity can't be underestimated, although at 32, Fitzpatrick knows he doesn't have much time left. But he says the challenge is still there for him. "That's why I still play," he said Tuesday. "If I didn't want to be here and if I didn't love this game and if I didn't have confidence in myself, then I wouldn't be standing here in front of you guys. I would be on vacation with my five kids, sailing off into the sunset with a career that nobody probably thought I would've had. But for me, I'm not satisfied with what I've done."
Makes for a nice story, but Fitzpatrick is still a journeyman quarterback now at the controls of a team that is a quarterback away from respectability. Not necessarily a good combination, although there was no guarantee Smith was ready to make an important step forward in his turnover-filled career. That step -- if it ever comes -- will now have to wait several more weeks. But the questions about whether Smith will ever become a functional starter and completely reliable teammate will continue to persist.
One staggering punch to the jaw, and the Jets are a mess once again.