DETROIT -- Geno who?
After 48 hours of intense controversy, the New York Jets got back to work Thursday night and played a preseason football game. They didn't play particularly well, losing to the Detroit Lions 23-3, but the score didn't matter. It was their first chance to play with Ryan Fitzpatrick, their new quarterback, and you got the distinct impression in the locker room that the Jets moved on from Geno Smith. And there were no tears.
Smith's credibility among his teammates took a big hit (no pun intended) Tuesday, when he got slugged in the jaw by now-former teammate IK Enemkpali. Failing to recognize his role as the team leader, Smith put himself in a bad spot by getting into a petty spat with Enemkpali over $600. No one deserves a broken jaw, but his involvement in a "very childish" altercation (Todd Bowles' description) reflects poorly on the quarterback.
Smith, recovering from surgery, could be done with the Jets as a starter. It's Fitzpatrick's team.
"He believes in us and we believe in him," guard Willie Colon said. "It's kind of a smooth groove, if you will."
There was no outpouring of emotion for Smith. Part of that could be attributed to the "next man up" mentality of the NFL. It's also because they wanted to move on from Smith. Nothing personal, mind you. Just business.
Take Brandon Marshall, for instance. For months, he told everybody the reason he wanted to be traded to the Jets was because he liked the idea of playing with Smith, whom he described as a young, ascending quarterback. This was Marshall after the game:
"I'm just moving forward. I think the whole team is moving forward. I think you'll hear that echoed throughout this locker room. It's time for us to move forward and play ball."
Fitzpatrick, 32, starting for his sixth team, never was anybody's Next Big Thing. He's certainly not that at this stage of his career, but he was "cool, calm and collected," according to Todd Bowles, who made his Jets coaching debut. The players talked about Fitzpatrick's poise. They talked about the way he spoke clearly in the huddle. He didn't get rattled despite having only one day of practice with the first-team offense. He's a pro. He was a grown-up in the huddle.
"I think everyone around the league knows he's a really smart guy and we all saw that," Marshall said.
Fitzpatrick attempted only three passes in one series (10 plays), completing two. He lacked zip on a third-and-1 pass, allowing the defender to break it up. He doesn't have a rifle, but some of that could be stamina. He missed a lot of the offseason, recovering from a broken leg, so his lower body isn't at full strength and that could affect his mechanics.
It was a quick hook by Bowles, but the rookie coach was thinking of the big picture. This was a small first step toward getting Fitzpatrick ready for the regular season. No doubt, they protected him better than Smith protected himself in the locker room.
The Jets weren't going to let any angry linebackers get to their new quarterback.