OAKLAND, Calif. -- For the first time in 13 years, somebody other than Eli Manning started at quarterback for the New York Giants. Geno Smith started in Manning's place and did enough to pique your interest but not enough to blow anybody away. It was a promisingly unimpressive performance.
The story of Manning ceding his job to Smith has been well told by now, and it’s likely to cost coach Ben McAdoo his job. Manning’s streak of 210 consecutive regular-season games ended. Smith started Sunday in a 24-17 loss to the Oakland Raiders at Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum, while Manning spent most of the afternoon analyzing the play calls with rookie Davis Webb.
Smith was behind center, experiencing his fair share of ups and downs. It was almost exactly what you would expect from the former Jets quarterback -- he made some good throws, navigated the pocket well, but also turned the ball over. Call it the story of his career, so far.
“I thought Geno competed at a high level. There were a couple fumbles,” McAdoo said. “We’ll have to take a look at the tape. The one where he was throwing, trying to pull it back and it got away from him. He had one where the ball got ripped out of his hands there. That nice two-minute drive at the end of the ballgame, he did something creative and threw a nice ball for the touchdown. I thought he competed.”
Smith, 27, took the first game that he started and finished since 2014 hard. He was steaming going into the locker room, and needed to be consoled by defensive tackle Robert Thomas.
He wanted to get the Giants (2-10) back on track.
“I just hate to lose,” Smith said. “I don’t want to lose at all, at anything, so I was upset that we lost. I felt like we had some opportunities and we could have taken advantage of them, but you can’t really cry over spilled milk, you just have to pick yourself up and get ready for next week.”
That’s if there is a next week. The Giants host the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday at MetLife Stadium. Whether Smith gets another start could depend on a number of factors. Among them are who is the coach.
While McAdoo said he had to look at the tape, Smith did nothing to prevent him from getting another opportunity as Webb waits patiently.
The Giants offense did look different with Smith instead of Manning. But the results were similar. They came into the game averaging 15.6 points per game. They scored 17 against a porous Raiders defense.
The Giants came into Sunday with the third-fewest pass plays of 20-plus yards. They did have three against the Raiders, two in the second half.
Smith finished 21-of-34 for 212 yards with a touchdown and two turnovers. He began slowly in just his second game in three seasons, but looked the role for most of the contest.
“I just know he was ready to play. I know he was ready to play,” Giants defensive end Olivier Vernon said. “I felt like he had a solid first game, and playing in a regular-season game. Unfortunately we just didn’t get the W.”
The Giants went three-and-out on each of their first three possessions before Smith went 4-of-5 passing for 54 yards on the fourth possession, which ended with an Orleans Darkwa touchdown run. He seemed to get more comfortable as the game progressed.
It was the Giants’ first touchdown drive of more than 20 yards in 2 ½ games.
The difference between Manning and Smith was evident in the first half. The more mobile Smith was able to salvage some plays with his legs, even if it involved avoiding pressure before throwing the ball out of bounds.
But then there were the turnovers -- two sack/fumbles. The first appeared to be on a play where Smith did not see the Raiders blitzing from his blind side. The Giants were outnumbered, and Bruce Irvin came off the edge to force a fumble.
The second turnover came after a big special teams play gave the Giants the ball in the red zone late in the first half. But rookie right tackle Chad Wheeler was inexplicably matched 1-on-1 on the outside against Pro Bowl defensive end Khalil Mack. Mack beat Wheeler quickly, and it resulted in Smith getting hit from behind and fumbling.
Turnovers always have been the problem for Smith. He came into Sunday with 43 turnovers in 34 career games.
Smith's TD toss came on a 10-yard bullet over the middle to rookie tight end Evan Engram. It was Smith's fourth touchdown pass in the past three seasons, and his first with the Giants.
It probably wasn't enough to silence the critics who wanted Manning to remain the starter, but it should be enough to warrant another start.