Geno Smith glared at the MetLife Stadium stands, then spit at the ground. Minutes after losing his third consecutive game, the frustrated Jets quarterback lost his cool in front of the hometown crowd.
Smith's four-letter expletive directed at a male fan only compounded the damage he did on the field Sunday during a 24-17 loss to the Lions. It was the tipping point for a typically mild-mannered quarterback who couldn't corral his emotions in the heat of the moment.
"First of all, I want to apologize if any kid saw me saying any negative remarks walking off the field,'' Smith said at the start of his postgame news conference. "I kind of let my temper get the best of me in that situation. It is a part of my learning process, I have to get better with that. I have to let that stuff roll off my back, but today I didn't do well with that.''
Smith, who was booed in the first half, threw his fifth interception and lost a fumble on consecutive possessions in the fourth quarter. Those mistakes invited more calls for his backup, Michael Vick.
But Smith said he wasn't worried about being benched during the game. Asked if he thought Vick would replace him at halftime, Smith said, "Not at all.'' He also said he's well equipped to lead this team.
"I am built for this,'' Smith said. "I have played football my entire life. I have dealt with heckling fans. It is not something I am not used to. The key thing for me is to continue to stay grounded, keep working. I am only 23 and I can't begin to tell you how much improvement I have to do.
"It is a long process, a long process. And I am in it for the long haul.''
That's precisely what troubles some Jets fans. But Rex Ryan reiterated he's sticking with Smith, who has four touchdown passes, including one Sunday.
"I'm not going to replace him,'' Ryan said. "I feel good about Geno. I think he will get it turned around. He's a tough, resilient young man. I think we're going to win. We'll win soon.''
Ryan also said Smith has the tools to be "really good.''
"I believe in him.''
The Jets' offense faded badly after a 71-yard opening drive ended with Nick Folk's 27-yard field goal. They went nowhere the rest of the half, failing to get a first down on their next five possessions and netting 27 yards.
Smith completed 17 of 33 for 209 yards. Matthew Stafford (24-for-34, 293 yards) threw touchdowns to Jeremy Ross (59 yards) and Eric Ebron to give the Lions (3-1) a 17-3 halftime lead. The Jets never caught up.
Golden Tate made eight catches for 116 yards on a day when Lions star Calvin Johnson, slowed by a sore ankle, had only two receptions for 12 yards.
The Jets are 1-3 for the first time under Ryan, and their schedule doesn't get any easier. They travel to San Diego to face the Chargers on Sunday before playing the Broncos and Patriots in consecutive weeks. Although the organization says it is confident in Smith, many fans aren't.
"We want Vick!'' chants rained down after Smith's interception. The calls for Vick began in the second quarter, and the boos continued when Smith started another series. But he insisted he had no reaction to the chants for Vick.
"It is part of the job, and I understand that,'' Smith said. "My reaction to that is to go out and try to score more touchdowns.''
His teammates didn't take kindly to the negativity, however. "I say to hell with the naysayers,'' Willie Colon said. "I'm going to stick with my guys, stick with my family. And whatever happens, happens.''
Colon was one of several teammates who acknowledged Smith was wrong for cursing at a fan. But they all understood it.
Eric Decker caught an 11-yard touchdown pass to pull the Jets to within 17-10 in the third quarter. He called the chants for Vick "BS.'' He added: "[Geno's] a playmaker . . . Obviously, he's made mistakes as well.''
And therein lies the problem.
But the Jets refuse to give up on Smith, and they're determined to sink or swim with him -- at least for now.
"When it comes down to it,'' Decker said, "us in this locker room, that's all we got.''