As the Jets' season careens further into irrelevance after a fifth straight loss and the countdown continues to the end of the Rex Ryan era, the final 10 games of the season will mostly be a referendum on whether Geno Smith is a suitable candidate to lead this team into the future. Or whether, as the evidence so far suggests, he soon will give way to the Jets' next quarterback of the future.
Smith came into the season with high hopes of building on a marginally successful rookie year in which he finished 8-8 and emerged from a midseason swoon with an impressive final month. But that progress has not transferred over, and the mediocrity he has put forth this year is a major cause for concern, to the point that the Jets will need to keep close tabs on the top college quarterbacks coming into next year's rookie class.
On a day when the Jets needed Smith to be much better than average against a powerful Broncos team led by the best quarterback in the game, Smith was largely ineffective. Except for a brief moment when he got the Jets to within one score of the Broncos with a 63-yard touchdown drive midway through the fourth quarter, Smith didn't do nearly enough to give the Jets their first win since Week 1 against the Raiders.
But at least he finished the game. And he didn't get into another verbal joust with an angry fan. Nor did he miss a team meeting last week, as far as we know.
So there's that. But there still were too many missed opportunities, enough to keep the questions going about whether Smith is fit to be the long-term answer at the most important position on this or any other NFL team.
Through six games, Smith has six touchdown passes and seven interceptions -- numbers that put him near the bottom of the NFL's quarterback rankings. His two touchdown passes against the Broncos represent the first time he has recorded multiple TD throws in a game this season and only the fourth time in his 22 starts. Sorry, but in a sport designed to give a quarterback every opportunity to succeed, those numbers simply aren't good enough.
It can be a dangerous business to make any final judgments on a player this early in his career, but the body of evidence Smith has produced is not encouraging. Ryan said Smith will get the start on Thursday night, when the Jets face the Patriots and complete the Peyton Manning-Tom Brady exacta. Which means that Michael Vick continues to be written off as part of any present or future answer at quarterback, and that the rest of this season is all about whether Smith can emerge from six games of mediocrity.
"Obviously, I'm frustrated. Five losses in a row has everyone frustrated," Smith said. "But I'm optimistic. I'm always looking forward, and just have to prepare for this week. We've got a short week against a tough New England team on the road. It's another test. We better be able to step up to it."
Credit Smith for keeping his chin up in the face of adversity.
"I wake up every day and I get another chance at life," he said when asked how he maintains his optimism. "That's good enough for me."
But with a team that is essentially out of the playoff race less than halfway through the season, it's likely that no amount of optimism or inner fortitude will be enough. While the Jets fell to 1-5, the Patriots continued to find their stride with a 37-22 road win over the Bills to improve to 4-2. And if the Patriots can't be caught in the division, forget about a wild-card run.
The Jets are all but done, and so is Ryan's time with them. The only thing left now is to see if Smith will be a part of their plans moving forward. Barring any unexpected developments in the next 10 games, the Jets likely will be looking at other alternatives during the offseason.
Even then, the pickings might be slim. They might need the first overall pick to grab Oregon's Marcus Mariota, the consensus top choice among college quarterbacks. Brett Hundley of UCLA isn't considered a can't-miss NFL prospect, and you're taking a huge chance if you go with Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston, whose off-field issues might prove to be a bad mix in this market.
Bad stuff here. And unless the light comes on for Smith, this might not get better anytime soon.