MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- Run, Geno, run.
It’s a simple explanation to the recent improvement of Jets rookie quarterback Geno Smith.
Early in the season, perhaps wanting to prove himself as a drop-back quarterback, Smith struggled to make first downs and suffered from a high rate of turnovers.
In the past four games, Smith has rushed for at least 44 yards each time out. The results have been startling: a 3-1 record and just two interceptions with no fumbles.
In the previous 12 games, Smith had a 5-7 record, 19 interceptions and eight fumbles, including four that the Jets lost.
Of his 366 yards rushing this season, 186 have come in the past four weeks.
“[Jets coaches] have been telling me [to run] all year,” Smith said. “But, early on, I was so focused on my reads and trying to see the defense and figuring things out that I didn’t play the game.
“My natural instincts and reactions are things they want me to do, and I’m getting better with that.”
Smith scored the winning touchdown Sunday -- a 7-yard run -- in the Jets’ 20-7 win over the Miami Dolphins. With three seconds left in the first half, Smith scrambled slightly to his right before turning upfield and finding some sturdy opposition in Dolphins linebacker Dannell Ellerbe.
That’s when Jets running back Bilal Powell made one of the most underrated plays of the day, pushing Smith from behind and allowing his quarterback to crash into the end zone.
“I was really struggling right there with that linebacker,” Smith said. “It was very smart on [Powell’s] behalf to give me that extra push.”
As for his passing, Smith finished Sunday with 17 completions in 27 attempts for 190 yards. It was his second straight game without a turnover, a remarkable stat given his propensity to turn the ball over earlier in the season.
What the future holds is anyone’s guess. Smith led the Jets to an 8-8 season that just about says it all for the quarterback and his team -- not great but not terrible, either.
The Jets, of course, have designs on being more than just “not terrible” and will be expected to explore their options at quarterback for next season, as they would for any position.
Asked about the possibility of the Jets acquiring a veteran quarterback next season, Smith was typically cool.
“That’s out of my control,” he said. “The only thing I can do is come back to camp and be ready to compete once again.”
For the season, Smith proved durable, taking numerous hard hits -- including 43 sacks, all of them in the first 14 games -- and yet starting all 16 games.
He completed 55.8 percent of his passes for 3,046 yards, 12 touchdowns and the 21 interceptions and four lost fumbles.
By comparison, last season in his fourth year for the Jets, Mark Sanchez completed 54.3 percent for 2,883 yards, 13 touchdowns, 18 interceptions, 14 fumbles and eight of them lost by the Jets.
In short, the veteran Sanchez had more turnovers and a lower completion percentage than the rookie Smith. The rookie also finished strong, which is not something Sanchez can claim.
“We saw [Smith] get better -- we knew it,” Jets coach Rex Ryan said. “But the way he’s protecting the football, the way he’s running ...
“The run he made to score [Sunday] -- that’s a pretty good linebacker [Ellerbe] he [ran away from]. He wasn’t going to be denied. ... He just willed it. He’s a tough guy.
“He carried our team on his back, and that was awesome.”