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SportsColumnistsBob Glauber

Geno Smith hands off, and then hands off some more in Jets' loss to Dolphins

New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) looks

New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith (7) looks to hand off the ball against the Miami Dolphins during the first quarter of an NFL game, Monday, Dec. 1, 2014, in East Rutherford, N.J. Credit: AP / Kathy Willens

It has been a season of second-guessing, so maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that there was more fodder presented by the Jets in Monday night's game against the Dolphins. But even by their own standards for creating questions about why they do things, this one was a stunner.

On a night when Geno Smith was reinserted into the lineup after a three-game hiatus, Rex Ryan did his best to try to win a football game without a quarterback. Or at least without a quarterback who did anything other than turn around and hand the ball off.

Ryan returned to his "Ground & Pound" style with feeling, trying to play keep-away from the Dolphins and using his quarterback mostly as a facilitator for the running game.

The formula worked for a while, as the Jets churned out a whopping 210 rushing yards in building a 10-3 halftime lead.

But even after the Dolphins made the proper adjustments in the second half by putting an extra linebacker -- and sometimes two extras -- in the tackle box to load up against the run, the Jets continued to play smashmouth and keep Smith from putting the ball in the air.

Not until they had fallen behind for the first time all night did Ryan and offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg open up the offense. And it was merely out of necessity in hopes of either sending the game into overtime or winning at the end of regulation.

By then, the outcome was entirely predictable. Having thrown only eight passes before the Jets' final drive, Smith was intercepted when he threw a seam route to tight end Jeff Cumberland over the middle.

Afterward, Ryan insisted his game plan was not a shot at Smith.

"It has nothing to do with us not having faith in our quarterback," Ryan said. "It had everything to do with us trying to win the game. We thought that was our best shot to win. We stayed the course and we stayed on plan. It had nothing to do with lack of faith in our quarterback. We had faith in our quarterback. It's unfortunate."

Once upon a time, running backs ruled the NFL and often decided the outcome of games. But that time has long since passed, and now a team needs to put the ball in the air to have any chance to win.

It was ridiculous that the Jets didn't adapt once the Dolphins decided to dare them to throw by stacking the box. When you're running the ball well, you open up the play-action passing game by having the quarterback act as if he's handing off, then drop back to pass. The fake handoff freezes the linebackers and defensive backs and opens up the passing game.

It's Football 101, and every team does it. Just not the Jets on this night. For some reason, they kept trying to pound the ball on the ground, mostly to no avail. After racking up those 210 yards on 29 carries in the first half, they were limited to 67 yards on 20 carries in the second half.

The game plan screamed out for the play-action pass, but Ryan and Mornhinweg refused to go there. And in the end, it cost them and it cost their young quarterback. Smith couldn't get into a rhythm, and when he finally had to throw, the ball wound up in the other team's hands.

It was an easy second-guess, but Smith wanted no part of it.

"The game plan was working and we had to stick to it," he said. "The goal of the team is to win and execute the game plan. When the situation came for us to pass the ball and win the game, we fell short."

Smith was beside himself with frustration. "I can't tell you how hard it is to fall short," he said. "After all we sacrifice every single week, the effort and time spent by every man in that locker room, and to fall short every week is gut-wrenching. I can't tell you how heartbroken I am right now."

There will be some good to come of it, he said.

"As tough as it is, you've got to man up," he said. "You got to stand up in the face of adversity. I'll be at the forefront of that."

Right there next to the coaches -- whose ill-conceived game plan wrote the latest chapter of this nightmare of a season.

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