Good Evening
Good Evening
SportsColumnistsNeil Best

Any way you look at it, Jets are a mystery

Rex Ryan look on from the sideline during

Rex Ryan look on from the sideline during a game against the Tennessee Titans at LP Field. (Sept. 29, 2013) Credit: Getty

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. - Some truths are self-evident as we assess NFL teams at the dawn of October.

For example, Eli and the Giants: bad. Peyton and the Broncos: good.

But what of the Jets, who could easily be 0-4 or 3-1, yet find themselves at an even 2-2?

There might be no more difficult team to get a handle on for fans, the media and the team itself, as illustrated by an answer quarterback Geno Smith gave Monday when someone asked for his assessment.

"We've experienced highs and lows," he said, "and that's something that can be a good sign, but it also can be a negative sign, so you have to remain even-keeled."

Well, yes, as most .500 teams would attest. But this is no normal .500 team, given the different career points at which its head coach and quarterback find themselves.

Rex Ryan is a lame duck, needing victories to convince general manager John Idzik he is worth keeping beyond 2013.

And Ryan has given no indication that he is thinking of anything else, including blunt talk both Sunday and Monday about how Smith has to be more careful with the football for the team to succeed.

"I understand that you can't buy experience, but with that being said, we still have to do a much better job -- with Geno in particular -- [we] have to protect the football at all costs," he said. "And you can't be nonchalant."

Smith knows that, of course, and said so both after Sunday's 38-13 loss to the Titans and again Monday during a long session with reporters.

But everyone in and around the team also understands that Smith must be afforded time to develop, given that the alternatives are callow Matt Simms and unreliable Brady Quinn.

Willie Colon, a Jets veteran guard and voice of reason out of Hofstra, nicely summed up the complicated goals Monday. He acknowledged that on one hand, Ryan needs to win, and on the other, a hoped-for future is under construction.

"That's just the cards that we're dealt," Colon said. "There's no other way to go about what we're dealing with right now. You can't say, 'Let's back Geno out, put somebody else out there. Let Geno take some time.' No.

"We're in it now. I was walking off the field [Sunday] and I was telling Santonio, 'We're in a dogfight. That's the bottom line. These are the growing pains.' This is the reality of it."

It is a reality the Jets created, leaving Ryan in charge while making a transition to a new GM and a rookie QB, a coach in limbo overseeing a team widely expected to struggle.

Then Ryan added to the weirdness by inserting his most accomplished quarterback, Mark Sanchez, late in a preseason game against the Giants, resulting in a shoulder injury that landed him on injured reserve, perhaps for good.

This Jets season was set up to be strange by the Jets themselves, and so far it is fulfilling that expectation.

Let's go back for one more dose of candid ambivalence from Smith, a seemingly level-headed fellow who off the field has been handling the New York sports spotlight smoothly.

I asked him Monday whether after four weeks in the NFL, he feels he belongs, or that he has a long way to go. Or both.

"I've always had an extreme amount of confidence, and playing these four games has given me confidence," he said. "But it's also been an eye-opener for me."

Twelve games to go. Don't blink, Geno.

With Kimberley A. Martin

New York Sports