FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - With his season threatening to unravel after two straight lopsided losses and more problems at quarterback, Rex Ryan is ignoring a groundswell of support for a change. He's sticking by rookie Geno Smith despite a dismal series of performances underscored by these eye-opening statistics: one touchdown pass and 10 interceptions in his last six games.
Ryan declined to make a quarterback decision immediately after Sunday's 19-3 loss to the Ravens. But after a night of reflection and a review of the game video on Monday, he is staying with Smith.
It's the right thing to do, but here's the catch: The turnovers simply cannot go on indefinitely without consequences for the first-year starter. With the Jets still in contention for the AFC's second wild-card spot, and with a playoff-caliber defense, it's just not fair to the rest of his team to keep trotting Smith out there unless he shows improvement. And that starts Sunday against the Dolphins, also 5-6 and fighting for a wild-card spot.
If Smith continues to turn over the ball at such an alarming rate, Ryan needs to be ready and willing to make the switch to Matt Simms, even if it's just a short-term move. Give Simms some first-team practice reps this week and have him ready to go. And if Smith throws a couple of interceptions early in Sunday's game and puts the Jets behind at halftime, Ryan is not being fair to his team if he doesn't put Simms in to see if he can light a spark.
Sometimes things get so overwhelming for a young quarterback that there's nothing wrong with seeing things from the sideline. It's one thing to let a guy play his way through a difficult period and another thing completely to keep putting him out there when he's not up to the task.
If there's a viable alternative -- and the Jets need to find out if Simms can be that guy -- a coach has to consider it. After all, as much as this season is about finding out about Smith, the Jets' second-round pick, it's also about seeing if Simms might be a part of the future, too.
Backups have taken on increasing significance this season in places such as Tampa, where rookie third-round pick Mike Glennon has emerged after Josh Freeman's ouster, and Tennessee, where Ryan Fitzpatrick has the Titans in playoff contention.
It's reasonable to find out if Simms' talent can offer the Jets another option.
Looking at this another way, do you think Ryan would be sticking with Smith right now if Mark Sanchez were healthy? The answer is no. Ryan would have had little choice but to put Sanchez in for a struggling Smith.
But Sanchez is done for the year and will not throw another pass for the Jets after they release him from his contract in the offseason. So they need to get an accurate assessment of Smith to see if they need to draft another quarterback (they should, especially if a blue-chip passer is available early in the draft).
But they also can't ignore the reality that they're in a playoff chase and every victory is precious.
That means Ryan, who's fighting for his own future and might be gone if the Jets melt down the rest of the way, can't be stubborn enough to play Smith regardless of how much he struggles.
Ryan hasn't been shy about benching cornerback Dee Milliner, a first-round pick, so he shouldn't coddle Smith if his poor play warrants a change.
Ryan is correct in giving Smith the chance to right himself at MetLife Stadium, where he has done much better than on the road.
Best-case scenario: Smith responds against the Dolphins and buys his team another valuable chunk of playoff equity with a win.
But if the turnovers persist and threaten to cost the Jets again, it will be time for Ryan to make a change.