Rex Ryan talks to Geno Smith before a game against...

Rex Ryan talks to Geno Smith before a game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. (Sept. 8, 2013) Credit: AP

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. -- For several minutes, Rex Ryan raved about his nascent quarterback.

He complimented Geno Smith's improved ball security, the rookie's heads-up running plays against the Patriots, and the fact that Smith can "make all the throws" asked of him.

"I think it's now his system," Ryan said Wednesday.

But again, the Jets coach stopped short of anointing Smith his starter for the rest of the season.

"I'm definitely ready to say he's our starting quarterback this week against Cincinnati," the coach said playfully.

The maturation of Smith is an ongoing process, but one that already has provided plenty of highlight-worthy moments. He's the first quarterback since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger with four game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in his first seven games. The latest came Sunday in a 30-27 OT win over New England. Smith also has more wins than Eli Manning, a higher completion percentage than Tom Brady and more 40-plus-yard passes than Drew Brees and Andrew Luck.

But the rookie QB isn't seeking job security from Ryan. Told his coach still refuses to publicly name him the outright starter, Smith matter-of-factly said: "I agree with that. That's the way I approach my lifestyle -- day by day.

"And that's the only way I can take it; just try to get better every single day and then go out there on Sundays and once again try to prove myself."

While the Jets (4-3) may be in the thick of things in the AFC East, "now is not the time to settle," Smith said. "We've got to continue to get better and keep climbing."

Smith has impressed in the Jets' four wins, but he's also shown signs of regression in their three losses. Smith is third in the NFL with 11 interceptions, behind Eli Manning (15) and Carson Palmer (13).

But Smith has made significant strides since Week 1. "With experience, things start to slow down for you," he said.

His latest outing was proof that the stage hasn't become too big for him. Smith rebounded from a first-quarter pick-6 to complete 17 of 33 passes for 233 yards, throwing a touchdown and scoring on an 8-yard run.

But with Sunday's game against the Bengals (5-2) looming, he knows he needs to elevate his game.

"I think everyone's always had that mentality to always play with a good amount of confidence and be consistent," he said. "But I think especially now, we've got to focus in and really just lock in on what our assignments are so we can do the right things on the field and then get victories."

The Jets haven't won back-to-back games since December (Cardinals and Jaguars). But Smith is determined to not be the weak link on this offense. He said he's been "kind of beating myself up" over his inconsistent play because "I know that with that consistency at the quarterback level, it usually leads to success with the team."

He and the rest of the Jets quarterbacks still run through ball-security drills in practice with running backs coach Anthony Lynn, though the rookie admitted the tiring exercises are "kind of dreadful."

"But I know that it makes us better," said Smith, "and it makes me better as a player."

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