Jane McManus | ESPNNewYork.com
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J — Geno Smith‘s growing pains became too much for the New York Jets in the first half of a 23-3 loss to the Dolphins at MetLife Stadium, and he was handed the clipboard as Matt Simms took over in the second.
The rookie starting quarterback has been benched twice before, but this time it could be a longer stay.
“Right now, I can’t tell you who is starting,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said.
The Jets have some decisions to make. Now that the playoffs have gone from a real possibility to a long shot, are they going to develop their young quarterback for the future, or go with an arm that might provide a better chance to win games?
“It’s safe to say that we’ll put the guys in who we think give us the best chance to be successful,” Ryan said. “That’s the way it is and will be moving forward.”
Smith, despite 29 first-half passing yards on four completions and an interception, said that he thinks he is still the best option at quarterback for the Jets after three straight losses.
“I have complete confidence in myself,” Smith said. “It’s been a tough three weeks, but I think I am the best option for this team. I think with the way that I work and the progress we’ve made as an offense — I know as of late we haven’t produced on the field — but sometimes that happens in the NFL.”
Jets fans booed Smith as he quickly led the offense straight off the field in each of five first-half possessions; three were 3-and-outs, one ended in an interception, and the most successful one had Kellen Winslow Jr. gaining a first down on a 12-yard catch before the Jets ultimately punted.
The coaches approached Simms after halftime began.
“They just told me to be ready,” Simms said. “Rex came up to me and said, ‘Are you ready to go? Do you know the game plan?’ And I said ‘Yes, sir I’m ready to go’ and that was it.”
Dolphins tight end Olivier Vernon was surprised to see Smith benched.
“I didn’t think they would do that,” Vernon said, “but we knew we were getting in his head, and the game went in our favor.”
Ryan was asked if the team needed more talent on offense.
“It doesn’t matter what we think right now, it’s about what we need to play against the Raiders and what we have and what we need and what we’re going to do. And I think that is where the focus is right now.”
If Simms had played marginally better, he would be able to claim he is the best option. The Jets set a new season low in the passing game with 79 yards divided between Smith (29) and Simms (50).
Simms also threw an interception and was credited with a fumble after a miscue between him and Bilal Powell.
The Jets went with a conservative running game in the second half, but even so Simms managed only a field goal. “We were moving the ball pretty well in the second half,” Simms said. “We didn’t finish drives. I took two sacks in two situations that we just can’t have.”
The Jets actually have two experienced quarterbacks on the roster. Mark Sanchez has been rehabilitating his right shoulder following surgery that was needed after Ryan put him behind the second-string offensive line in the fourth-quarter of a preseason game. He was on the sideline and in the quarterback huddle on Sunday.
Sanchez has more than boos in common with Smith.
Sanchez was no fan favorite after four seasons as starter, but ESPN Stats & Information has found that Sanchez’s 2012 completion percentage against the blitz of 49.7 with 6.7 yards per attempt is nearly identical to Smith’s this year (49.2 and 6.8).
The Jets other option is David Garrard, who has thrown 89 touchdowns in an NFL career dating back to 2002. Garrard even put on his uniform before the game on Sunday and warmed up by throwing the ball on the field.
“I just wanted to get a feel for things, throw the other team off,” Garrard said. “A lot of guys in this locker room were thrown off too.”
Garrard, who left the Jets in the offseason after knee pain made him unable to play, hasn’t played in a regulation game since 2010, but said he thinks he could.
“I feel great,” Garrard said. “I wouldn’t be here if I wasn’t.”
The Jets have not activated Garrard this season, and chose to dress an injured Santonio Holmes who was used in just three offensive plays. Josh Cribbs, the likely emergency backup who has been used on some wildcat plays, left the game with an injured right shoulder and left the stadium with that arm in a sling.
So who starts next week, Smith, Simms or Garrard? The answer was a little murky in the wake of the AFC East loss.
“All I know is what’s in front of us,” Ryan said. “I’m not going to dwell on this or this. We just have to look forward and do what’s best for the team right now.”