EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Out they came, one by one: Chris Johnson ... Chris Ivory ... Eric Decker ... and so on. Every starter on the New York Jets' offense bolted out of the tunnel Monday night for the pregame introductions at MetLife Stadium -- except Geno Smith. He decided to pass on the tradition, opting to run out in a group with the rest of the team.
We didn't know it at the time, but it was actually foreshadowing.
The Jets played without a quarterback all night.
Employing a game plan that was closer to the single wing than anything resembling a 21st-century NFL offense, the Jets welcomed Smith back to the lineup by turning him into a handoff machine. It was Ground & Pound & Pound. They ran all over the Miami Dolphins, limiting Smith to eight pass attempts for the first 58 minutes. When they needed him to win the game in the final two minutes, he failed, throwing an interception with 34 seconds left to seal a crushing 16-13 loss that dropped the Jets to 2-10.
Naturally, coach Rex Ryan defended the ultraconservative game plan, but the unspoken message was clear: The Jets have no faith in Smith, who replaced Michael Vick, who replaced Smith. Monday night confirmed what we already knew: The Jets still don't have a quarterback. This December audition won't go too well if they don't let Smith, you know, throw the football.
Ryan said last week he was "excited" to see how Smith would rebound after his three-game benching, expecting the young quarterback to mature from his time on the sideline. The Jets never gave him a chance. Get this: 41 of their first 49 plays were runs. Basically, the Jets employed the Denver Broncos' Tim Tebow game plan from 2011: Play ugly ball for 50-plus minutes and hope to steal a win in the end.
In theory, the Jets' initial plan was sound, considering Smith's turnover-prone ways, but they never adjusted in the second half. They never used play-action. They never attacked the Dolphins' off-the-street cornerback, R.J. Stanford. Indeed, Percy Harvin said he was "licking my chops" at the prospect of facing the third-string Stanford.
The Jets were dared to throw the ball. And they kept running. You had to check the sideline to see if offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, known for his pass-happy style, still was calling the plays. Was he kidnapped? Did he pull a Dimitri Patterson and go AWOL? Nope, he was still there, incredibly.
The Jets rushed for a season-high 277 yards on 49 attempts, but only 67 of those yards came in the second half, as they were smothered by the Dolphins' nine-man fronts and run blitzes. Ryan was on the defensive, insisting the game plan was no reflection of his confidence (or lack thereof) in Smith.
"It had zero to do with us not having faith in our quarterback," Ryan said. "It had everything to do with us trying to win the game."
Exactly -- and that meant taking the ball out of Smith's hands.
Smith (7-for-13, 65 yards) didn't inspire much confidence when given a chance to throw -- he missed an open Harvin on what should've been a 30-yard touchdown -- but there's a difference between coaching around your quarterback and playing Neanderthal football. This style worked in 2009, when the Jets had the top-ranked running game and the top-ranked defense to protect a young Mark Sanchez. But the 2014 Jets aren't nearly as good as the '09 version. When you have an error-prone team and you play with a small margin for error ... well, you lose.
And the Jets made just enough mistakes, especially on special teams, to lose to an utterly mediocre Miami team.
"It's easy to sit back and question the fact that we didn't throw it as much, now, but at the end of the day, we wanted to run the football," Ryan said. "We felt that gave us the best opportunity to win the game."
Smith had only six attempts at halftime. Ryan scoffed, noting his team's 210-yard rushing total.
"I'll take that any day of the week," he said. "Any coach would, not just me. Tom Brady would take that. Bill Belichick would. If we throw six and we're rushing for 210, we'll sign up for that every week, even if we have Joe Namath at quarterback."
For all that wonderful rushing, the Jets' halftime lead was 10-3.
Smith said he didn't perceive the game plan as an insult toward him. He liked the strategy, just not the outcome
"It's gut-wrenching," he said. "I can't tell you how heartbroken I am right now."
We know one part of his body wasn't hurting: his right arm. It was plenty fresh.