Another mistake-filled performance -- the latest in a string of them -- and Rex Ryan was left with no other choice than the one he made at halftime Sunday against the Dolphins: With the Jets' playoff hopes slipping away and with Geno Smith managing only two first downs, four completions and zero points, the coach benched his rookie quarterback in favor of the untested Matt Simms.
The move didn't provide the spark the Jets were looking for in what turned out to be a 23-3 loss, but the increasing dissatisfaction with Smith is further verification that the Jets' quarterback problems are only getting worse. It remains an open question whether Smith is good enough to be considered the team's franchise quarterback.
His regression has become downright worrisome. In his last seven games, Smith has one touchdown pass and 11 interceptions. His pick near the end of the first half Sunday was the latest evidence of a downward spiral that shows no signs of slowing.
The fact that Simms wasn't much better in throwing for 79 yards with an interception and a fumble suggests that Ryan ought to keep going with Smith in hopes he somehow can right himself. But Smith's dismal recent performances also suggest that the Jets will be looking very carefully at the likes of 2014 draft-eligible quarterbacks Johnny Manziel of Texas A & M, Zach Mettenberger of LSU, Teddy Bridgewater of Louisville and Marcus Mariota of Oregon to see if one of them can answer the team's need for a franchise quarterback.
Smith has another month to show the Jets he can be the guy. He said after yesterday's dismal effort that he wants to remain the starter.
"I have complete confidence in myself," he said. "I think it's been a tough three weeks, but I think I am the best option for this team. I know as of late, we haven't produced on the field, but sometimes that happens in the NFL. Not to make any excuses, but we just got to look ourselves in the mirror, get better from this and find a way."
Smith is hardly the first rookie quarterback to struggle and find a seat on the bench during a difficult NFL apprenticeship, but he takes no solace from examples of young passers paying early dues before flourishing.
"I don't look at it like that," he said. "I'm my own person, and quite frankly, what anyone did in the past does not reflect what I do on the field. I'm not trying to find any reassurance in that. The reassurance I find is the trust in my teammates and my coaches, and me going out there on the practice field and working hard and getting better. Pretty much that's the only way I can deal with it."
Smith's problems have been well-documented, but the one consolation had been that he seemed to play better in home games. MetLife Stadium is where he helped the Jets beat the Patriots and Saints in a three-game span earlier this season, and the Jets were 4-1 at home entering Sunday's game. But after brutally ineffective efforts in Buffalo and Baltimore the previous two weeks, Smith was just as bad when he returned home to face the Dolphins.
With both teams 5-6 and still in the thick of it for the second wild-card slot in the AFC, this was a huge spot in which Smith needed to show the poise and playmaking ability the Jets needed. He showed none of it, and the offense was simply awful while he was in there. The Jets had the ball for less than six minutes in the first half, and after seeing Smith produce only two first downs, Ryan made the switch to Simms.
But Simms didn't provide the spark Ryan sought. On his second series, he and running back Bilal Powell botched a handoff, and the Dolphins turned it into a touchdown for a 13-0 lead.
Simms moved the team on the next drive but stalled at the Dolphins' 2, and the Jets settled for their only points of the game on Nick Folk's 20-yard field goal. Miami went up 20-3 on its next possession, and that was it.
So now Ryan is left with the unenviable choice of going back to his struggling rookie on Sunday against the Raiders or staying with Simms after his own mistake-prone performance. Might as well go back to Smith and hope he can respond to the benching with a better effort against a beatable opponent.
But after what we've seen the last several weeks, the expectations shouldn't be that high. Being a rookie quarterback in the NFL usually is a painful experience, and Smith is simply the latest example.
"Individually, I've got to look myself in the mirror and figure out ways to get better," he said. "It seems like I say this every week, but there's always a way to get better, and I've got plenty of room to improve, so I've got to continue to plug at it and continue to keep working."
Four more weeks to prove that the Geno Smith era deserves to continue.
Or needs to go in a different direction.