FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) — Rookie mistakes and clutch plays.
That has been the season so far for Geno Smith, who has been inconsistent and promising at the same time for the New York Jets.
Only seven games into his career, there is plenty of room for improvement with eight touchdowns and 11 interceptions. But, Smith already carries himself with a quiet confidence, a swagger befitting a veteran when the game's on the line.
"I just enjoy playing the game," Smith said. "I'm pretty confident in myself and my teammates. That's where that comes from."
The Jets are rightfully being patient with the second-round pick, pushing him to be better while also knowing there's perhaps something special developing with Smith.
They're hoping he is more often what they saw last Sunday, when he led the Jets to a 30-27 overtime victory over the New England Patriots. After an early interception was returned for a touchdown, Smith rebounded in a big way by bringing the Jets back from a 21-10 halftime deficit.
"Just keep making strides," coach Rex Ryan said when asked what he'd like to see from Smith moving forward. "I think you see it on the practice field. I think he's comfortable with our system.
"I think it's now become his system."
Smith is the only quarterback since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger with four winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime in his first seven games. All four of the Jets' wins have come that way, and Smith's performance has been a big reason.
"He's not playing like a deer in the headlights," Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said. "And when you watch how he played a week ago, he doesn't necessarily look like a rookie quarterback."
Lewis and the Bengals will see Smith up close Sunday when New York plays at Cincinnati. The Bengals' defense is one of the toughest in the league, and provides a huge test for Smith, who has yet to put two outstanding games together back to back.
"I definitely want to continue to play consistently, and that's something I have been working extremely hard at," Smith said. "I've been beating myself over it because I know with that consistency at the quarterback (position), it usually leads to success with the team.
"That's something I'm trying to do, something I pride myself in, being a consistent decision-maker."
There have been some "Wow!" moments on some perfectly placed throws, and some others that have left Ryan and the Jets shaking their heads.
Against the Patriots, though, Smith showed persistence and resilience — and maybe a sign that he could be not only a fan favorite, but a franchise quarterback.
Despite getting a pass picked off by Logan Ryan, who returned it 79 yards for a touchdown, Smith didn't sulk.
He also didn't let it affect him the rest of the game.
"The thing with Geno is that he's the same guy every day," linebacker Calvin Pace said. "He's never too up and never too down, which I think is good for a quarterback. Even when he does well, he's kind of like, 'Well, I was supposed to do that.'"
On third-and-14 from the Patriots 24 late in the third quarter, Smith took off, was hit by Marquice Cole, but still managed to reach out as he was going down and got the first down. Two plays later, seeing none of his receivers open, Smith took off again and sprinted to his right, faked out Cole with a shake move and dived into the corner of the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown.
It put the Jets up 24-21 and had the crowd at MetLife Stadium waving green towels and chanting "GEE-NO! GEE-NO!" as Smith's teammates mobbed him.
"I saw the highlight of the pick-6 Geno threw early in the game and I thought, 'That's it. Bill Belichick is going to mess with another rookie quarterback. He's going to fold,'" former NFL quarterback Steve Beuerlein said on CBS Sports Network's "NFL Monday QB."
"But this kid stepped up."
Smith is still working on his ball security, going through "dreadful" drills, as he called them, in which players try to rip the ball out of his hands. He also acknowledged that the game is starting to slow down a bit for him, and the plays in which he should take chances or be less aggressive are becoming clearer to him.
Another solid performance on Sunday against the Bengals, and expectations could begin to really rise — for Smith and the rest of the Jets.
"I think everyone's always had that mentality, to always play with a good amount of confidence and be consistent," Smith said. "Especially now, we have to focus in and really just lock in on what our assignments are so we can do the right things on the field and get victories."
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