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Geno Smith's improved play gives Jets chance to finish 8-8

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) Credit: Jim McIsaac

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Geno Smith's quarterback rating was a dismal 40.7, as bad a rating as you'll see for most NFL starters. Just one problem: That was Smith's combined rating for a three-game stretch -- all losses -- that effectively ruined the Jets' playoff chances. The bottom fell out in the first half of a 23-3 home loss to the Dolphins, when Smith was benched at halftime and replaced by backup Matt Simms.

Look back on that moment now, and that benching may have been the best thing to happen to the rookie. Smith vowed to be a better quarterback upon being reinstated by coach Rex Ryan, and he has done a much better job in three starts since.

Cause and effect? Sure looks that way.

"I think it may have helped him just [because] sometimes you sit back out and you have a chance to see it from a different perspective, and you know how hungry you are to get back out there," said Ryan, who made the call to sit Smith in the Miami game. "That [loss to Miami] might have been the low point, and we've had some low points, but that might have been the worst one because we really got it handed to us."

The home loss wiped out all the good will built up by the Jets for their first nine games, when they went 5-4 after beating the Saints and Patriots in a three-game span heading into their bye. But they came out of that week off by losing consecutive games to the Bills, Ravens and Dolphins, and Smith grew progressively worse. The numbers were brutal; he had no touchdown passes, six interceptions, eight sacks and a lost fumble. The Jets were outscored 79-20, and questions persisted about whether Smith was truly capable of becoming a reliable starter. The trio of losses also cast doubt about Ryan's future.

But these last three weeks have been much more to the liking of the quarterback and his coach. The Jets have won twice, and had Smith not thrown what he admitted was a brutal interception late in the fourth quarter against the Panthers, they might be still be in the playoff hunt.

Smith has four touchdown passes, two touchdown runs and two interceptions in his last three games. His average rating in those three: 83.5. Before this recent stretch of improved play, Smith had eight touchdown passes and 19 interceptions and an average rating of 60.4.

Geno has also warmed to the idea of using his feet more. Since being benched, he has 21 rushes for 147 yards and two TDs. It's no accident he's a better quarterback when he adds the running game to his repertoire. Consider: In the six games Smith has run five or more times, the Jets are 5-1.

It's not that Smith is now a run-first quarterback, but there's no question he has benefited from taking off every now and then. He has rushed 62 times for 322 yards (5.2-yard average) and five touchdowns.

"I feel like I'm improving," Smith said. "I've been trying to do that every single game [and] every single day in practice. It's been working for me, I've shown progress. That's something that's a good sign, but I have to keep climbing and not focus on where I am now but where I want to be in the future."

Smith's immediate future provides a second chance against Miami. "It means a lot," Smith said of the game. "It means everything for us. We only have this game to look forward to until the offseason. Obviously, we want to end it off on a good note. They got us the first time, so we want to make it even and then it's obviously better to be 8-8 than 7-9."

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