FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Rex Ryan had to do it. For his own sake. For Geno Smith's sake. And, more importantly, for his team's sake.
With Smith coming off the worst start of his career -- throwing three interceptions in a span of six plays and four minutes and being benched less than 11 minutes into the first quarter of a 43-23 loss to the Bills -- Ryan had to pull the plug on his second-year quarterback and go with Michael Vick.
No other choice.
Ryan said the move will allow Smith to "step back for the first time in his career, maybe get a different perspective of it.'' He said it's not necessarily a permanent switch, only that Vick will start Sunday in Kansas City. But make no mistake: This is a major step back for Smith, who has been given every opportunity to fight his way out of a season-long slump that has been a key reason for the Jets' 1-7 record.
"I felt the energy on the sidelines,'' Ryan said, referring to the insertion of Vick late in the first quarter against Buffalo. "I think, given an opportunity that he really hasn't been given, which is to really run with the first team all week, that we'll see how it plays out.''
It's the right call, even if the Jets have run out of hope of making a playoff run in what has turned into a lost season.
Ryan would have preferred to see Smith work through his struggles and come out the other side a better quarterback, but Smith's continued turnover problems left him with little alternative. If Ryan had gone back to Smith now, he would have run the risk of losing the locker room. It's one thing to let a young player work his way out of his problems; it's entirely different when that young player is drowning in his own mistakes.
Sunday's dreadful first quarter, during which Smith threw interceptions on the Jets' second, third and fourth possessions, offered conclusive evidence that he was being swallowed up by his own ineptitude.
That the woeful effort came 10 days after his best game of the season in a 27-25 loss to the Patriots made it all the more perplexing. But the up-one-week-and-down-the-next trend has repeated itself far too regularly for Ryan not to go to Vick.
You can argue that Ryan should have made the move sooner; then again, if this season was all about finding out if Smith could be the guy, Ryan had to see for himself if Smith could break through the inconsistency. He couldn't, leaving the coach with no choice but the one he made yesterday.
"Geno had a tremendous game against New England,'' Ryan said. "I felt great about it. I really thought we were going to have a great game this week, and clearly that didn't happen. I am not going to spend a whole lot of time going back and thinking, well, I should have done this or whatever. I think this is the right decision at this time.''
Vick thinks the move can benefit his younger teammate.
"It's a great opportunity for him to sit back, learn and catch his breath,'' he said. "He never really had a chance to sit back and watch an older guy or have an opportunity to be a student of the game. This is a chance for him to sit back and learn vicariously.''
Interestingly enough, Vick's first start as a Jet comes against Chiefs coach Andy Reid, the former Eagles coach who gave him a second chance after he finished a prison sentence for running a dogfighting operation.
"I love Andy Reid for the man that he is,'' Vick said. "[But] football is football. It is kind of ironic that the first chance I get to start is against my former coach. Would I have wanted it that way? No, honestly. But it's a great opportunity and I have to try to take full advantage of it.''
Smith, meanwhile, seemed to know after Sunday's game that there'd be a change. He found out officially Monday afternoon when Ryan told him he was going with Vick.
"I'm obviously frustrated because it happened,'' said Smith, who suffered a bruised shoulder while making a tackle on his third interception, which was returned 26 yards to the 1 and set up a Buffalo touchdown on the next play. "You never want that to happen. I'm disappointed because we lost, and then to turn around and get the news.''
Given Vick's injury history and his own problem with turnovers, there's a good chance Smith -- who expects to be OK for Sunday -- will see action at some point.
For now, though, Ryan made the right move.
Time to get the kid out of there.