FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - If Rex Ryan intended to send a strong message to Geno Smith that his mistakes would not be tolerated without consequence, consider it received. In big, bold letters.
"It does motivate me,'' the rookie quarterback said Wednesday after he returned to work in hopes of breaking a three-game losing streak that has the Jets on the brink of playoff elimination. "I expressed to my coaches and my teammates I never want to come out of a game, no matter what. But I have to use it as motivation and take it from there.''
Smith's funk is front and center among the Jets' problems. He has just one touchdown pass and 11 interceptions in the last seven games, and hasn't had a rating above 22.3 in the last three. He knows he has to get going now.
If there's one way for Smith to break out of his funk, it's to start thinking more about using his legs. Not that he will be mistaken for Cam Newton, Robert Griffin III or Russell Wilson, but Smith has to be willing to start scrambling and running more to wake up a moribund offense.
Smith wasn't known as a runner at West Virginia, where he led one of the country's most prolific passing attacks. But when he was leading the Jets to a 5-4 record, he was much more willing to run. Through nine games, he ran 36 times for 172 yards and three touchdowns. In his last three, he has only five carries for 8 yards and no touchdowns.
I'm not suggesting that Smith fundamentally change his game and abandon being a pocket passer. But there's nothing wrong with taking off if he's under a heavy rush, if receivers can't get open, or if he sees a running lane. Maybe extending plays would give his receivers more time to get open.
We've seen how effective Smith's runs can be. Bringing back that element to his game might get something going after weeks of futility.
He seems to agree.
"I would say that's one thing, just using my legs more, buying more time, picking up a few more first downs, picking up a few more yards,'' he said. "It's something I've got to do a better job at. There are lanes here and there. My mentality is to be an aggressive thrower, and I think I can make every throw. But there are times when I need to tuck the ball down and run.''
Jets backup David Garrard, who had plenty of rushing attempts during his years as the Jaguars' starter, said Smith ought to start running some more.
"You're not always looking for the shot down the field,'' Garrard said. "Sometimes that's what we're trying to get, but when it's a little edgy, when the pocket is not as firm, you have to just get the ball out of your hands in some way.
"Also, just being a playmaker, using those legs. I believe he ran a 4.5 coming out. You have to be able to keep defenses honest. When you can escape out of the pocket, it tends to get them to stop bringing so many blitzes because they have to be able to account for you.''
Translation: When your offense is struggling as badly as the Jets' has the last three weeks, you have to start improvising a little more. That doesn't mean taking off at the first hint of pressure. But it does mean being ready to go if it helps avoid a sack or an ill-advised throw into coverage.
"I've definitely seen some things on tape where I could have used my legs some more, some things outside of the pocket that would have helped us,'' Smith said. "That just goes back to my own personal self-scouting and evaluation and seeing some things I can improve on, and that's one of them.''
He's right. Using his legs offers another way to escape this slump and get the Jets back on the winning track.